Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 45th Israel mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, February 18th, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery pending a hearing in the Bezeq-Walla Affair as well as lesser charges in two other cases, as torrential rain was falling throughout the country.
But the storm inside Mandelblit’s office was much more of a threat to the prime minister’s political future.
The timing of the announcement seemed very appropriate to Likud officials: 40 days ahead of the April 9 election, the same amount of time that the world was flooded during the biblical story of Noah.
Due to his 25 years of warning against Iran’s nuclearization, Netanyahu has often been compared to Noah, who warned the world of its imminent destruction and arguably proved to be right. Noah ultimately emerged unscathed from the storm, but will Netanyahu do the same?
The Likud’s internal polls predicted that the party would lose three seats in the aftermath of a bribery indictment. With the Blue and White Party already riding the momentum of its merger last week, that could be a devastating blow to Netanyahu’s party.
Forty days is a long time until the election, which would leave plenty of time for undecided voters to forget the charges against Netanyahu.
But unlike the days of Noah, there are reporters now. The leaks that there will be from the testimony of the state’s witnesses against Netanyahu – that will be revealed in the immediate days before the election – could have a greater impact than the announcement made 40 days before.
Another result of Netanyahu getting indicted, pending a hearing, is that it would limit his options of what coalition he could form if he wins the election and is given a mandate to form a government by President Reuven Rivlin.
Labor, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have said that their parties would not join a government led by Netanyahu following an indictment pending a hearing. Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon and Gesher head Orly Levy-Abecassis have indicated that they would join after that stage but not remain if there is a final indictment a year later.
Netanyahu could end up having no choice but to form a right-wing government with parties that do not care about his legal situation like Shas, United Torah Judaism, Bayit Yehudi – and Yisrael Beytenu, if it crosses the electoral threshold.
That could make it harder for Netanyahu to advance the peace plan of US President Donald Trump, who delivered praise for the prime minister on Thursday, a day when he needed an emotional and political boost.
If Gantz forms the government, Netanyahu might quit politics. Whoever replaces him could decide to enter the coalition to get experience in a senior portfolio. There could even be a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office between Gantz and whoever is elected to lead Likud.
Another possibility – that became more likely after Mandelblit decided on a bribery charge in only one of the three cases – is a plea agreement, in which that charge could be dropped in return for Netanyahu leaving politics permanently.
Then there is the possibility that Netanyahu will weather the storm, prove his innocence in his summer hearing and then reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians under Trump’s watchful eye.
In that scenario, Netanyahu, like Noah, could end up sending out a dove when the stormy waters have dried – and all that will be remembered in retrospect is the calm that followed the storm.
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