Former chief Of staff turns state’s witness
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has already broken the record for being the Israeli Prime Minister who has served the longest number of consecutive days in office, and if he stays in power until July, 2019, he will break Ben Gurion’s record to be the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history.
Until this weekend, that seemed likely. But since Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, turned state’s evidence, Israeli bookies are taking bets on when, not if, the Prime Minister will be forced to resign.
Press reports say that Harow has already provided information on three separate corruption indictments surrounding Netanyahu. Pundits said it was likely that Netanyahu, who has been Prime Minister for more than eight consecutive years, would be indicted in at least one of those cases. The three cases involve Netanyahu accepting expensive gifts from wealthy businessmen (Case 1000) including tens of thousands of dollars worth of expensive cigars, a case in which Netanyahu agreed to support a bill to weaken Yisrael Hayom, a free newspaper which has become Israel’s largest circulation daily in exchange for favorable coverage of the Prime Minister in the rival Yediot Aharonot (Case 2000), and the alleged illegalities in the purchase by Israel of German submarines (Case 3000). Netanyahu is not believed to be directly involved in Case 3000, which some say could be the gravest corruption case in the nation’s history.
A police document, published on Thursday, accidentally confirmed that the police are investigating Netanyahu on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The court then imposed a gag order on the details of Case 1000 and Case 2000. Israeli press reports said that they expected Netanyahu to be indicted in Case 2000 soon. It was Harow’s recordings of conversations between the Prime Minister and Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes that is expected to lead to the indictment. Netanyahu continued to insist he has done nothing wrong and called the latest reports “background noise.” At the same time Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said over the weekend that according to Israeli law, even if Netanyahu is indicted, he does not have to resign.
There is a disagreement among Israeli analysts about what will happen if the Prime Minister is indicted. That is still several steps away. If as expected, the police recommend an indictment, the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will have to decide whether to issue the indictment. All of that is expected to take several months.
“If there is an indictment, I think he will have to resign,” Guy Ben Porat, a professor of government and politics at Ben Gurion University told the Medi Line. “There will be public pressure on him to resign and his own party might turn on him.”
The precedent is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who was forced to resign in 2009 after a series of corruption charges, and was recently released after serving just over 16 months in prison,
Some analysts said that Netanyahu has no intention of leaving office a minute before he is forced to resign.
“He will hang on as long as possible,” Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster, who has done work for Netanyahu as well as former President Shimon Peres told The Media Line. “The only way he might resign is if the indictment is so serious that he will make a deal (with the state) to avoid many years of trial and punishment. He will fight to the end and he’s best when he’s fighting and not governing.”
Barak said that a large proportion of the Israeli public is expected to continue to support Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu is solid within his base,” Barak said. “Unlike Olmert where an indictment forced him to leave Netanyahu is a solid leader of Likud. They back him and the entire right wing does not see anyone who can take his place. Israelis don’t like to throw the dice and take a gamble on a new leader who doesn’t have experience.”
He said that for many hardline Israelis the main issues are Iran, relations with the Trump administration, Russia and Syria, and that Netanyahu is seen as the best one to handle these issues.
If Netanyahu does resign, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin must choose someone else from the ruling Likud party to try to form a majority coalition government. None of the current coalition partners seem likely to want an election, meaning that even if Netanyahu resigns or is forced to leave, it does not necessarily mean that Israel will go to elections.