Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (R).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Post-election, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s desk is covered with hot potatoes.
On Feb. 28, he advised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that July 10 was carved in stone for starting pre-indictment hearings in Netanyahu’s corruption cases.
The purpose of fixing this date was to grab the high ground, as if to say that he could have set an earlier date by immediately sending the full case file to Netanyahu and other likely defendants in the prime minister’s public corruption cases.
It was by Netanyahu’s request to hold back on transferring the file lest any unflattering stories be leaked during the election period. The case file was transferred on April 10, the day after the recent general election.
Now in the post-election period, Netanyahu’s lawyers have been leaking that three months is not long enough for them to prepare, especially when they have not resolved a legal fight with the State Comptroller committee about whether Netanyahu or donor-supporters of his will pay the legal fees.
Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit has already backed off of July to September as a compromise in light of Netanyahu’s request for an even longer postponement.The Jerusalem Post
has learned that, as of now, July 10 remains the date for the hearing. That does not mean that Mandelblit may not compromise, but he has not yet been formally asked to.
He could reject such a request pointing out that, absent Netanyahu’s request to delay transferring the case file, his legal team could have started preparing six weeks ago.
But there is no question that in the midst of coalition building and the Netanyahu election win, it will be harder for Mandelblit to hold firm to the July 10 date.
Another issue are the reports about potential links between Netanyahu and Case 3000, the Submarine Affair.
Though there have been reports that Mandelblit has instructed the police to do a large initial review, at this stage he has not initiated another full-blown investigation. Rather, a small prosecution staff is reviewing the basic financial issues to try to understand what legal questions are at stake.
It is not clear whether the issues are connected to the German-manufactured submarines, or whether the weak points for Netanyahu and his cousin and would-be donor, Natan Milikovsky, are potential false financial reporting or illegal omission of reporting financial issues.
The police will only jump on this fully once an initial framework is configured that suggests criminality.
Mandelblit may also be facing a tsunami of changes to the legal playing field.
If Likud official Yariv Levin is appointed justice minister, and he is a leading candidate, Mandelblit could face changes to his own bailiwick, to the powers of the Supreme Court, and to the method of appointing Supreme Court justices.
Levin would love nothing more than to finally pass the proposed circumvention bill which would grant the Knesset the power to veto Supreme Court vetoes.
For better or for worse, this could end much of the power of the Supreme Court’s judicial review and give the Knesset free reign.
Levin and other conservatives have also wanted for years to split the attorney-general into two weaker positions: one focused on legal advice and the other on prosecutions. This would significantly diminish Mandelblit’s standing if it occurred on his watch.
There are also a range of proposals for giving the Knesset much greater power over appointing Supreme Court justices instead of having to negotiate with the current justices about new appointees.
Mandelblit may also face various attempts to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution, to delay his prosecution while in office, or fights over whether he can stay in office once indicted.
This is another reason that the timing of the pre-indictment hearings matter. The sooner they begin, the sooner the final indictment is, and the sooner all of these issues come to a head.
Whether Netanyahu appoints Levin, the even more aggressive United Religious Party MK Bezalel Smotrich, or more moderate choices like Likud officials Yuval Steinitz or Tzachi Hanegbi, will signal whether the prime minister is seeking to butter up or threaten the legal establishment.
Before long, the hot potatoes on Mandelblit’s desk could burst into flame, causing a constitutional crisis in a country without a constitution.
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