Prime Minister Netanyahu enters a meeting of the security cabinet, August 2017.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi was not just defending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he said it would take a long time for the legal process in Netanyahu’s criminal investigations to take its course. He was speaking from experience.
Hanegbi became an expert on the Israeli legal system after serving as Netanyahu’s justice minister in his first term, and as Ariel Sharon’s public security minister. Hanegbi was convicted in 2010 of perjury after a four-year trial while being cleared of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He did not serve jail time and paid only a 10,000 fine.
Hanegbi pointed out on Sunday that Netanyahu did not legally have to quit if police recommend that he be indicted, or even if he gets indicted by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit. Moreover, Hanegbi said he did not believe there would be a court decision for three or four years in any of the cases against the prime minister that would legally require him to leave office.
Based on that thinking, there are three possible timetables for Netanyahu’s legal process, assuming that nothing extraordinary happens – like his calling for a surprise early election: there’s the timetable that Netanyahu backers will like, the one preferred by those who oppose him and the most realistic one in between.
The police will need time to investigate all the new evidence they receive from their new state’s witness, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow. That will involve going to the US and interviewing millionaires who are not currently in the headlines.
In this scenario, the police do not even end up recommending an indictment by the end of the year, making Inspector-General Roni Alsheich’s on-record statement in January that the police were almost done with the probes look ridiculous.
If the recommendation comes in early 2018, Netanyahu will be subject to hearings that will take time to schedule. Mandelblit might not even decide whether to indict Netanyahu until after the magic date of September 23, 2018, when he would pass David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
With that date passed and US President Donald Trump taking his advice to prevent the nuclearization of Iran, Netanyahu might even be able to negotiate a deal to drop charges against him in return for him quitting politics.
That’s what he did in 1999.
Or even better for him, he could be cleared.
The police get so much good stuff from Harow that they decide to recommend an indictment next month, before a gag order on details from his probe ends.
The evidence could be so damaging that Netanyahu’s coalition partners – who currently say he can stay – will beg him to go. A no-confidence vote would be held in November shortly after the Knesset returns from its extended summer recess, and one of the coalition partners helps bring down Netanyahu.
In that scenario, it is unlikely that another current MK will be able to form a government, so general elections will be initiated, as will a highly contested race to succeed Netanyahu as head of Likud.
People made fun of the eight candidates in the Labor race? This one will have 12.
Netanyahu could be indicted by the end of the year, though his trial would still last a very long time.Most realistic timetable:
legal correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob, who has spent extensive time with Mandelblit, estimates that the attorney-general would take three to six months to make a decision following a police recommendation to indict the prime minister.
Police sources have leaked that the most likely time for their recommendation would be in October or November, after the fall Jewish holidays.
That means Netanyahu’s fate will be decided in the spring of 2018.
If Mandelblit clears Netanyahu, the legal process will end there. If he indicts him, it will rapidly intensify, and political processes will ensue.
Chances are a police recommendation would not change the minds of the coalition partners, who desperately want more time in the current government for their own personal political reasons. But Mandelblit is highly respected across the political spectrum.
If Mandelblit decides Netanyahu needs to go, an election becomes much more likely.
That election would most likely be held in the fall of 2018, with the fight against corruption a key issue in the race