The Jerusalem Post
One day to go
The nightmare of the last few months since the election campaign began will come to an end tomorrow. In the last few months, I found myself constantly mumbling to myself answers to the filth and lies being hurled at the leaders of the parties from the political camp to which I belong, and to the gross inaccuracies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps spreading about his government’s grand achievements compared to those of previous governments.
For example, when Netanyahu and the Likud started declaring that Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz cannot manage the Israeli economy because a company he established went bankrupt, I recalled that prior to being elected president, Donald Trump – Netanyahu’s best friend and political benefactor – filed for bankruptcy six times, and that for around 20 years he managed to dodge paying income tax as a consequence. So, Netanyahu, is Trump unfit, in your opinion, to serve as president?
Again, Israel’s greatest foreign policy feat (before independence) was getting the support of the majority in the UN General Assembly for the establishment of a Jewish state. In the first years after its establishment, Israel’s leaders managed to get indirect military support from the Soviet Union, at a time when none of the Western democracies – including the US – agreed to provide such support (Netanyahu was in diapers at the time). The greatest of Israel’s foreign relations breakthrough came after the Madrid Conference in 1991 and the Oslo Accords in 1993, when China and India both established diplomatic relations with Israel for the first time since its establishment
(Netanyahu, was opposed to both the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords).
Admittedly, Netanyahu has had some spectacular foreign policy successes: the most recent of which being the recruitment of Russia to bring home the remains of Zecharia Baumel 37 years after he was killed in battle. But hosting all sorts of populist, extreme-right foreign leaders, and getting recognition from the American president for Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights – an act that is meaningless under international law – are not great foreign policy achievements. And incidentally, the nuclear agreement with Iran is still in force, despite Trump’s unilateral act of pulling the US out of it.
THE DAY after tomorrow, should Netanyahu be the one called upon to form the new government (as the opinion polls predict), my thoughts will shift from the dirty campaign to concerns about the sort of coalition Netanyahu will manage to concoct, its guidelines, and to what Netanyahu and his henchmen will try to do in order to thwart Netanyahu being indicted for as long as he remains prime minister.
There are two measures that the Likud might initiate or support in order to try to save Netanyahu from facing justice. The first is the so-called “French Law” that will state that a Prime Minister cannot be indicted or even investigated during his term of office, unless the charges are extremely grave (murder, rape, robbery – but not necessarily bribery). The second is the return to the old MKs’ Immunity Law, as it existed until 2005.
Netanyahu has said in recent interviews that he has given no thought to the French Law. This is untrue. Back in October 2017, when the then coalition chairman David Bitan raised the possibility of submitting a bill in the spirit of the French Law, Netanyahu declared that he “is not interested in any law that affects the investigations related or unrelated to me.” So he admitted that he had given the issue thought. Today he does not repeat this statement, but merely smirks and brushes off the question, refusing to state categorically that he will oppose the submission of such legislation. Several members of the current coalition, including Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan from the Likud, have already stated that they will object to such legislation, especially if it is to apply retroactively, but it is not beyond Netanyahu to include the duty to support the French Law in his coalition agreements.
Regarding the Immunity Law, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Haihud Haleumi) has already declared that he plans to submit a bill to cancel the amendment to the Law from 2005 that states that the attorney general can decide to indict an MK in cases that are not related to his substantive immunity (immunity from standing trial for things he said or did that are directly related to his fulfillment of his job), unless the Knesset decides that the MK’s procedural immunity should stand.
Previous to this amendment, the attorney had to ask the Knesset to remove the MK’s immunity before he could open an investigation against him or her. The law was changed because the Knesset had abused its powers in regard to lifting immunity. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the case of two Likud MKs accused of double voting during the vote on the Economic Arrangements Law for 2003-2004.
If the law is passed, it is not certain whether it will also apply to the prime minister without the Basic Law: the Government also being amended, but once again at this stage it is not clear whether a majority will support such an amendment and even if it does pass, whether it will be possible to apply it retroactively.
As to the nature of the government that Netanyahu is likely to form after the election, we already know that Smotrich claims that he has been promised the Ministry of Education, that the Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir claims to have a promise (by whom?) that if he gets into the Knesset, he will be appointed Chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and that he will be appointed member of the Committee for the Appointment of Judges. Ayelet Shaked from the New Right demands the Ministry of Justice for herself, and has promised to continue her crusade to weaken the Supreme Court and other gatekeepers, while Moshe Gafni from Yahadut Hatorah has stated that his party will intensify its struggle over the Sabbath, against the mobilization of haredi youths to the IDF, and intervention in the haredi education system – just to mention a few of the goodies that might soon be bestowed upon us, should Netanyahu form a narrow government with a small majority.
In a last-minute interview with Rina Mazliah on Channel 12 on Saturday evening, Netanyahu also threw a bombshell, apparently with the intention of gaining votes at the expense of the other right-wing parties. He declared that soon after the elections he plans to apply Israeli law to all Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, including those that are not part of the settlement blocs (many of which were built without official approval). This move, which runs counter to the broad Jewish consensus regarding the future of the settlement blocs in an agreement with the Palestinians, and is sure to raise even wider international condemnation than the American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, seems to have prematurely popped out of Netanyahu’s head without even being discussed in the cabinet, or anywhere else.
Is all this really what the majority of Israeli citizens want? Apparently, it is what they will get.