Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ/MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit blinked on Wednesday, giving in to pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move a pre-indictment hearing for bribery charges from July 10 to October 2 and 3.
His decision to postpone the hearing to immediately after Rosh Hashanah could reverberate in numerous ways, changing the timeline for a final decision to indict, as well as how long the incoming coalition government may be able to serve, should a final indictment against Netanyahu force him to resign.
The sides have been publicly banging heads over the issue, with Mandelblit adamant that he would not postpone the hearing a single day beyond July 10, and Netanyahu’s lawyers requesting a yearlong postponement to master the vast evidence against him in three separate cases.
The attorney-general announced on February 28 that he will likely indict Netanyahu for bribery and breach of trust in Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000.
Case 1000 centers on expensive gifts Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, allegedly received from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian tycoon James Packer.
Case 2000 focuses on an alleged deal between Netanyahu and Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes, in which the daily would soften its aggressive anti-Netanyahu tone in return for the prime minister acting to curtail Yediot rival Israel Hayom’s activities, to benefit Yediot financially.
Case 4000 revolves around allegations of a deal in which Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of telecom corporation Bezeq, ensured positive coverage for Netanyahu in the Bezeq-owned Walla news website, in exchange for the prime minister promoting government regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the company.
Mandelblit tried to frame his decision as giving something to both sides by saying that the pre-indictment hearing would need to be over by mid-October – whereas sometimes pre-indictment hearings drag on for months.
In theory, this would allow Mandelblit to make a final decision about the indictment by December, when State Attorney Shai Nitzan’s term ends, or by February 2020, one year after his initial announcement.
But pre-indictment hearings are notorious for unexpected twists and turns, and it will be hard for Mandelblit to box Netanyahu’s lawyers into concluding the hearing process in only two weeks.
That would mean it is more likely that February 2020 will be the earliest time for a final decision, and that the decision could even be a few months past then.
Mandelblit gave Netanyahu’s lawyers 14 days to agree to the new hearing date, allowing the prime minister more time to frame the issue. It was unclear at press time how they would respond.
Until Wednesday, Mandelblit had said that July 10 was long enough for Netanyahu’s lawyers to prepare, since they could have received the full case file as early as February 28, and chose not to of their own accord.
Though Mandelblit stared down Netanyahu’s lawyers into accepting the case file before their fight is resolved with the State Comptroller Committee over who will pay the prime minister’s legal fees, the attorney-general blinked regarding the pre-indictment hearing date.
It was unclear what changed Mandelblit’s position, other than that it seemed increasingly implausible that Netanyahu’s lawyers would be ready for the hearing in July, having agreed to accept the case file only recently, earlier in May.