Is­rael braces for bit­ter fight af­ter Ne­tanyahu in­dict­ment

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - WEATHER - By Joseph Krauss

JERUSALEM >> Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s in­dict­ment is ex­pected to sharpen the bat­tle lines in Is­rael’s al­ready dead­locked po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and could test the loy­alty of his rightwing al­lies, Is­raeli com­men­ta­tors said Fri­day.

The se­ri­ous cor­rup­tion charges an­nounced Thurs­day ap­pear to have dashed al­ready slim hopes for a unity govern­ment fol­low­ing Septem­ber’s elec­tions, paving the way for an un­prece­dented re­peat vote in March, which will be the third in less than a year.

In an an­gry speech late Thurs­day, Ne­tanyahu lashed out at in­ves­ti­ga­tors and vowed to fight on in the face of an “at­tempted coup.” But in a Face­book video posted Fri­day, he ap­peared at ease as he thanked sup­port­ers.

“This whole process will at the end of the day be de­cided in court and we will ac­cept the court’s de­ci­sion, there is no doubt about that,” he said. But he also said any­one in the po­lice or the state pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice who broke the law should also be held ac­count­able.

His main op­po­nent, the cen­trist Blue and White party, called on him to “im­me­di­ately re­sign” from all his Cab­i­net posts, cit­ing a Supreme Court rul­ing that says in­dicted min­is­ters can­not con­tinue to hold of­fice. Ne­tanyahu also serves as min­is­ter of health, la­bor and Di­as­pora af­fairs, as well as act­ing min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture.

He is not legally re­quired to step down as prime min­is­ter, but Ne­tanyahu faces heavy pres­sure to do so, and it is un­clear whether an in­dicted politi­cian could be given the man­date to form a new govern­ment. Ne­tanyahu has al­ready failed to form a ma­jor­ity coali­tion of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knes­set af­ter two hard­fought elec­tions this year.

“This will not be an elec­tion, it will be a civil war with­out arms,” colum­nist Amit Se­gal wrote in Is­rael’s Ye­diot Ahronot news­pa­per. “There is a broad con­stituency that be­lieves what Ne­tanyahu said yes­ter­day, but it is far from be­ing enough for any­thing close to vic­tory.”

Writ­ing in the same news­pa­per, Sima Kad­mon com­pared Ne­tanyahu to the Ro­man em­peror Nero, say­ing “he will stand and watch as the coun­try burns.”

Ne­tanyahu was in­dicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stem­ming from three long-run­ning cor­rup­tion cases. He has de­nied any wrong­do­ing and ac­cused the me­dia, courts and law en­force­ment of wag­ing a “witch hunt” against him.

The cor­rup­tion charges will weigh heav­ily on Ne­tanyahu’s Likud party in fu­ture elec­tions, but it’s un­clear if any se­nior mem­ber has the sup­port or will­ing­ness to re­place him.

Hours be­fore the in­dict­ment was an­nounced, Gideon Saar, a se­nior Likud mem­ber, said a party pri­mary should be held ahead of any fu­ture elec­tions and that he would com­pete. In another sign of dis­sent, the right-lean­ing Jerusalem Post news­pa­per ran a front-page editorial call­ing on Ne­tanyahu to re­sign.

“We know there are mem­bers of the Knes­set who say that Ne­tanyahu has be­come a li­a­bil­ity and per­haps he should re­sign, but they are still afraid to come against him in the open,” said Ey­tan Gil­boa, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at Is­rael’s Bar Ilan Univer­sity.

“The only one who could do it is Gideon Saar,” he added.

Some Likud mem­bers ex­pressed sup­port for Ne­tanyahu af­ter the in­dict­ment was an­nounced, but most, in­clud­ing Saar and other prom­i­nent mem­bers, have re­mained silent.

“If the at­tor­ney

gen­eral should in­deed an­nounce that Ne­tanyahu can no longer form a govern­ment, will (Likud mem­bers) stand up openly and work to form an al­ter­na­tive govern­ment? For that to hap­pen, they will have to sit to­gether in one room and trust each other, which is some­thing that has not hap­pened for the past decade,” Se­gal wrote.

Nev­er­the­less, he con­cluded, “the great threat to Ne­tanyahu is now posed from within.”

Amid all the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions, Ne­tanyahu will have to pre­pare to go on trial. He can bat­tle the charges, or he might seek a plea bar­gain in which he agrees to re­sign in re­turn for avoid­ing jail time or hefty fines. Ei­ther process could drag on for months.

Ne­tanyahu is Is­rael’s first sit­ting prime min­is­ter to be charged with a crime. His pre­de­ces­sor, Ehud Olmert, was forced to re­sign a decade ago ahead of a cor­rup­tion in­dict­ment that later sent him to pri­son for 16 months.

ARIEL SCHALIT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sup­port­ers of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu gather out­side his res­i­dence in Jerusalem on Thurs­day.

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