The recommendation to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges over Case 4000, otherwise known as the Bezeq Affair, is not likely to have much of an immediate impact, but it is a step toward what could be the most dramatic development in Israeli politics in a decade.
“There will be nothing, because there is nothing,” has been Netanyahu’s mantra all along, and he repeated it again after the police released their statement on Sunday, trying to shrug off the latest development.
In the short term, Netanyahu may be right not to despair because it seems likely that he will be safe, both politically and legally, for the coming months.
The recommendations to indict Netanyahu in Cases 1000 and 2000 didn’t have much of a political effect
. The opposition called on the prime minister to resign then, just as they did after the latest development. Likud ministers and MKs rallied around Netanyahu and cast aspersions on the police, just as they did on Sunday. After so many leaks in the media about Netanyahu and these cases, the announcements stopped making much of a dent on the polls. And coalition partners did not leave over the previous cases.
But the close of this police investigation is more dramatic than the others and will reverberate farther than the others because Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said he would wait for all the investigations to be completed before deciding whether to indict Netanyahu. Now the hour of decision is at hand. Sources close to Mandelblit have also told reporters that Case 4000 is the most serious of all, and he is strongly considering an indictment.
Mandelblit has been known to take his time, but the police recommendations bring us one step closer toward the decision that can make or break Netanyahu, and possibly change Israeli politics as we’ve known it for the past decade.
And this police recommendation comes during a time when there is constant election fever.
This coalition has a one-seat majority, putting it on shaky ground to begin with. Coalition partners seem resigned to Netanyahu not wanting to dissolve the Knesset now, but they still have had trouble promoting much of a legislative agenda in recent weeks.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said in recent months that his Kulanu party would not remain in the coalition if Netanyahu is indicted. That factor is stronger now than ever before, and will likely contribute to the division and distrust within the coalition.
And there’s the question of whether this recommendation changes Netanyahu’s plans. His attorney, Amit Hadad, favors a plea bargain by which the prime minister would not run for reelection, or resign shortly after being reelected, to avoid the indignity of standing trial. Perhaps Netanyahu thinks an indictment will make him unelectable, so he should try to stretch out his time in the Prime Minister’s Office for as long as possible before Israelis go to the polls. If indicted, could he call a snap election to ensure he remains prime minister for the duration of a possible trial?
The possibility of Netanyahu exiting politics opens endless political questions and possibilities as to who will lead the Likud, whether that person will maintain the party’s lead, or whether this is the center-left’s opening to win an election for the first time in 13 years.
And the possibility of Netanyahu being indicted and staying in politics could be dramatic as well. It is highly likely that there will be a petition at the Supreme Court against his remaining in office while on trial, which means that this is another major decision thrown to the judges. If the Likud is already repeating that leaders should be changed at the ballot booth and not through the police, imagine if a prime minister is removed by the Supreme Court, which the Right has been at odds with for years.
Sunday’s recommendation doesn’t portend much about the political future. But it brings us that much closer to Mandelblit’s decision, which could change everything. There may not be drama right now, but it is likely on the way.
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