Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (R).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
If anyone thought that the gloves were only off during election season, they were mistaken.
Going forward, there will be no quarter, no easy moments and no technical issues that will not be fought over in the process leading to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s likely indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery.
The latest example in a series of battles is this weekend’s one over the starting date for the pre-indictment hearings.
But it did not have to be like this.The Jerusalem Post
learned last summer that Mandelblit was ready to drop any jail time for Netanyahu if he did not run for reelection. But the prime minister had other plans.
He massively attacked Mandelblit and the state prosecution for making the February 28 announcement that they would indict him for bribery, subject to a pre-indictment hearing, in the middle of election season.
Of course, Mandelblit pointed out that he had signaled he would make a decision by February before the prime minister declared early elections and dared the attorney-general to back off.
Mandelblit, who had slow-walked the investigations against Netanyahu for years, is no longer willing to play ball. He will not allow himself to be publicly compelled to back down from what he views as handling the Netanyahu case by the book.
That brings us to the current conflict over when the pre-indictment hearings will start.
In early March, Mandelblit set the hearing for July 10 after he agreed to delay delivering the full file to Netanyahu’s legal team – at their own request – to avoid leaks during election season.
But Mandelblit’s idea was that granting the Netanyahu team’s request for a delay with the file was on condition of holding the July 10 date, with no delay of that date no matter what.
Netanyahu would not get to push off receiving the material and then also gain several extra months until his hearing.
In the bigger picture, the question is whether Netanyahu must prepare for the pre-indictment hearing at the same time as trying to form his new coalition and start the next government’s new initiatives.
Will he start his term as a half lame-duck prime minister – who might be forced to resign within months or a year – or with his full powers?
So his lawyers are pushing the envelope on the hearing. More than a month after the election, they have still refused to collect the full case file, saying that they are being sabotaged from performing their services because the State Comptroller committee will not allow donations to pay legal fees from rich allies of Netanyahu.
Even if they collected the file, the Post
understands that their position is that four months, even dating back to Mandelblit’s late February decision, would not have been enough time to prepare for a case with so much evidence.
Netanyahu’s lawyers would add that defense lawyers for other defendants in the Netanyahu cases have also told them that no one will be ready by July 10. They would even laugh off September as a new date, saying that far more time is needed.
But Mandelblit has been consistent and adamant that he will not move off the July 10 date. He would argue that most of the major issues were being analyzed by the defendants through years of police investigations and that Netanyahu’s legal team, even with new additions, is not starting from square one.
Each side would give examples that prove the pre-indictment hearing could occur even sooner or much later, but Mandelblit is the one who decides – and indications are that he is incensed that his goodwill gesture of delaying transferring the file is being manipulated.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s defense lawyers are just as adamant against the July 10 date, and all options are on the table: from asking the High Court of Justice to compel Mandelblit to postpone the date, to canceling the pre-indictment hearings to accuse Mandelblit of bias. While these fights helped Netanyahu politically during election season, it is unclear if they will help him now that the game is all on the legal field.
Mandelblit could simply decide to accept Netanyahu’s cancelation of the hearings and move straight to a final indictment this summer.
This would leap-frog the country much closer – as many as six months forward – to the decisive point when the High Court is expected to have to decide whether Netanyahu needs to resign once indicted.
The only remaining question is whether this is Netanyahu’s high-stakes strategy to bring the whole issue to a final conclusion sooner – regardless of the outcome.
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