Cloud hangs over a fifth term for King Bibi

State prose­cu­tor has rec­om­mended in­dict­ing Ne­tanyahu for bribery charges

The Irish Times - - World News - Mark Weiss in Jerusalem

Ac­cord­ing to the polls, Binyamin Ne­tanyahu is al­most cer­tain to be elected to a fifth term as Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter when the coun­try goes to the polls on April 9th.

How­ever, King Bibi, who has dom­i­nated the Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal scene for more than two decades, faces a ma­jor ob­sta­cle that threat­ens to wreck his il­lus­tri­ous po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

Next month, Is­rael’s at­tor­ney gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit will de­cide whether to in­dict Ne­tanyahu, pend­ing a hear­ing, in three sep­a­rate cor­rup­tion cases.

Is­rael’s state prose­cu­tor last month rec­om­mended in­dict­ing Ne­tanyahu for bribery charges in two of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions, known as Cases 2,000 and 4,000, and breach of trust in the third

1,000.

Case 2,000 cen­tres on an al­le­ga­tion that Ne­tanyahu asked the pub­lisher of the Ye­diot Aharonot news­pa­per for pos­i­tive cov­er­age in ex­change for help in rein­ing in a ri­val pub­li­ca­tion, the pop­u­lar, pro-Ne­tanyahu free news­pa­per Yis­rael Hayom, owned by Amer­i­can casino mogul Shel­don Adel­son, and a close friend of the prime min­is­ter at the time.

Case 4,000 in­volves sus­pi­cions that Ne­tanyahu ,when he also served as com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter be­tween 2015-17, en­sured fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits amount­ing to hun­dreds of mil­lions of euro for Bezeq, Is­rael’s largest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany, which is owned by Shaul Elovitch, in re­turn for favourable cov­er­age for Ne­tanyahu and his wife Sara on the pop­u­lar news web­site Walla!, also owned by Elovitch. af­fair, dubbed Case

Pink cham­pagne and jew­ellery

In Case 1,000, Ne­tanyahu is al­leged to have re­ceived gifts worth ¤230,000 from the Is­raeli-born Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Arnon Milchan and other wealthy friends. The gifts in­cluded cigars, pink cham­pagne and jew­ellery.

Most com­men­ta­tors be­lieve that Ne­tanyahu’s prime mo­tive on Christ­mas Eve when he an­nounced the snap April elec­tion was the hope that such a move would put the le­gal pro­ceed­ings against him on hold.

But the at­tor­ney gen­eral an­nounced he was ex­pe­dit­ing the process, mean­ing the pre-in­dict­ment hear­ing will be held be­fore the elec­tion takes place.

Ne­tanyahu made it clear that he had no in­ten­tion of re­sign­ing, ac­cus­ing the ju­di­ciary of join­ing forces with the op­po­si­tion to bring him down.

“For years, the left-wing demon­stra­tors and the me­dia have been ap­ply­ing thug­gish and in­hu­man pres­sure on the at­tor­ney gen­eral for him to in­dict me in any event, even when there’s noth­ing,” he said.

“They are try­ing to force the at­tor­ney gen­eral to in­ter­vene crudely in the elec­tions by sum­mon­ing me to a hear­ing, when it is known in ad­vance that the hear­ing can­not be com­pleted be­fore the elec­tions. They know that our team al­ways wins, so they are try­ing to pres­sure the ref­eree to take Messi out of the game.”

The head of the op­po­si­tion, Labour’s Shelly Yachi­movich, said that Ne­tanyahu’s “vi­o­lent state­ments” en­join­ing the law-en­force­ment agen­cies to leave him alone were no dif­fer­ent from the state­ments made by any other per­son fac­ing se­vere crim­i­nal sus­pi­cions, but as prime min­is­ter he holds the power to bring down with him the in­sti­tu­tions up­hold­ing the rule of law.

The graft al­le­ga­tions have failed to harm Ne­tanyahu’s pop­u­lar­ity and, if any­thing, have boosted his stand­ing with his right-wing base, who be­lieve his claim that he is the vic­tim of a con­spir­acy by the left­ist Is­raeli elites.

Polls pre­dict that Ne­tanyahu’s Likud party will again emerge as the big­gest party, win­ning about 30 of the 120 seats in the Knes­set par­lia­ment – the same as they have to­day and sig­nif­i­cantly ahead of all the other par­ties.

The only fig­ure who come close to Ne­tanyahu when asked by poll­sters for the most suitable can­di­date for prime min­is­ter is Benny Gantz, Is­rael’s for­mer army com­man­der. Gantz heads a new cen­trist party called Is­rael Re­silience, but has yet to out­line his pol­icy guide­lines.

The left is in dis­ar­ray, and de­spite talk of the need for a grand anti-Ne­tanyahu al­liance among the left and cen­tre par­ties, such ef­forts have failed to gain mo­men­tum.

Bar­ring a dra­matic, un­fore­seen de­vel­op­ment, Is­rael is fac­ing an­other Ne­tanyahu coali­tion of right-wing and re­li­gious par­ties, prob­a­bly to­gether with some cen­trist fac­tions.

Polls show that even a crim­i­nal in­dict­ment will fail to sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect voter in­ten­tions, maybe shift­ing a few seats from Likud to smaller right-wing par­ties.

‘‘ What re­mains un­clear is how Ne­tanyahu’s po­ten­tial coali­tion part­ners will re­spond to an in­dict­ment

Con­sti­tu­tional predica­ment

What re­mains un­clear is how Ne­tanyahu’s po­ten­tial coali­tion part­ners will re­spond to an in­dict­ment, par­tic­u­larly if it in­cludes bribery.

Will they be ready to en­dorse a can­di­date for prime min­is­ter who is fac­ing a po­ten­tially long and com­pli­cated le­gal bat­tle in the courts, plung­ing Is­rael into an un­charted con­sti­tu­tional predica­ment?

Al­most all the party heads have scores to set­tle with Ne­tanyahu. They will only give a de­fin­i­tive an­swer if and when an in­dict­ment is is­sued and the de­tails of the cor­rup­tion charges are re­vealed.

Though re­luc­tant to talk about it in pub­lic, politi­cians, in­clud­ing those in the Likud and the other right-wing par­ties, are al­ready jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion, ahead of the pos­si­bil­ity that the end of the Ne­tanyahu era may be closer than the polls pre­dict.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ARIEL SCHALIT/VIA REUTERS

Is­raeli prime min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu: graft al­le­ga­tions have failed to harm him.

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