Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he meets with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
The big day has come. Now what?
Most importantly, might Netanyahu at some point need to resign?
The answer is not yet, but that could change in three to 12 months.
This announcement by Mandelblit
was just a declaration of intent to indict the prime minister. Now we wait through months of pre-indictment hearings where Netanyahu’s lawyers will try to convince Mandelblit to drop the case.
Presuming that he does not drop the case – and indications to The Jerusalem Post are that at the very least Case 4000 will lead to a final indictment – then the real legal question comes with the final indictment announcement, which will come in late 2019 or early 2020.
The dry law of Knesset statutes does not specify one way or another about whether a prime minister must resign when indicted.
It only says conclusively that he must resign when convicted along with exhausting all appeals.
But what happens when the inevitable petition is filed to the High Court of Justice to force Netanyahu out?
Sources close to Mandelblit have told the Post that if Netanyahu was eventually indicted for bribery – and in multiple cases – as opposed to mere breach of public trust in one case, then the prime minister would need to step down.
The Post has learned that Mandelblit would not push for the prime minister to step down. But recognizing that former High Court presidents Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar have both said an indicted prime minister must or should step down, sources have indicated that Mandelblit would stand before the High Court and tell them that it is hard for him to defend the prime minister continuing his leadership.
If he took that position, it could give the court the cover needed to order a resignation.
Likewise, nearly all of the former chief justices and attorneys-general recently met with Mandelblit and closed ranks behind him. This will also be a strong signal to the current High Court justices.
The court can cite past judicial decisions that forced out Arye Deri (in his first stretch as a minister), former minister Shlomo Benizri and several mayors, to support a decision to demand a resignation, even if it isn’t explicitly required from a statute. None of those forced resignations were mandated by statute.
Avigdor Liberman also resigned from his position as foreign minister upon being indicted in 2012, but it was voluntarily.
Not that any of this is guaranteed, especially because recently retired High Court chief justice Miriam Naor repeatedly refused in 2018 to take a stance on the all-decisive legal question so as not to tie the High Court’s hands.
Also, with Mandelblit’s negotiation style with Sara Netanyahu on display and his former closeness to the prime minister, there is a decent chance that he might succeed in avoiding this. He might convince Netanyahu to step down on his own accord.
Right now, Netanyahu is vowing he will never resign, but starting from today – and certainly following a final indictment – the country enters a new reality.
There are no clear answers, except that the likelihood of Netanyahu remaining prime minister past early 2020 are dramatically reduced as of Thursday’s blockbuster decision.
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