The Netanyahu trial that has stopped making news - analysis

Once Netanyahu withdrew his immunity request from the Knesset last Tuesday, there was suddenly little more to report about the case.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he and U.S. President Donald Trump discuss a Middle East peace plan proposal in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he and U.S. President Donald Trump discuss a Middle East peace plan proposal in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)
Trial? What trial.
A week after the attorney-general filed indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Jerusalem District Court, formally making the prime minister a defendant in a criminal case, not much about the Netanyahu cases has been heard.
The case has been buried by news of the coronavirus scare, US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” Naama Issachar and now Netanyahu’s trip to Uganda, where cooperation leading to a normalization of ties with Sudan was announced.
Partly by design, partly by events beyond Netanyahu’s control, the daily agenda has shifted substantially over the last couple of days, very much to the prime minister’s advantage.
To understand the degree that the agenda has shifted, all one has to do is look at Yediot Aharonot and Maariv on Monday. Yediot had one small story relating to Netanyahu’s legal cases – having to do with how he will pay for his defense – on the bottom of page 11.  Maariv had nary a story on the matter in the paper’s news pages at all.
The evening news programs over the last two nights have been dominated by the global coronavirus hysteria and a rise of tension in the West Bank and Gaza.
Once Netanyahu withdrew his immunity request from the Knesset last Tuesday, there was suddenly little more to report about the case.
For a couple of weeks prior, the news was dominated by Netanyahu’s decision to ask for immunity, and then once he made that decision, whether a special Knesset session could be called to establish a committee to deal with the matter. What would Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein do? Why did Netanyahu ask for immunity and then want to delay a discussion on the matter in the Knesset until after the elections?
There was something connected to the Netanyahu case to talk and write about forever. There was always a related news item.
But now, after years of the cases being a staple for the media, right now – at a critical time before the elections – there is nothing more to report. The witnesses were questioned by the police, so there is nothing more to leak. The attorney-general decided to indict on three cases, so there is nothing else to speculate about. The indictment was filed, and now all that is left is to wait for the trial to begin.
But waiting is not front page news.
When a date is set, the case will again be in the media for a day, as it will when the Jerusalem District Court president appoints the three judges to hear the case.
No date has been set, and the panel of judges has not been appointed, and – because of the bureaucracy in the legal system – it is unlikely that the case will begin within the next 28 days, the period remaining before the elections.
So while Netanyahu’s decision to withdraw his immunity request did place him at the mercy of the court, it also effectively took the issue off the public agenda.
Which is a problem for the Blue and White Party, running principally on an “anything but Bibi” platform. That platform gains traction when the spotlight is on Netanyahu’s legal woes and his alleged malfeasance and loses traction when the spotlight goes elsewhere.
And Netanyahu is doing everything he can to ensure that the spotlight goes elsewhere.
It was no coincidence, for instance, that the meeting in Uganda on Monday with Uganda’s president and the leader of Sudan and the later announcement of cooperation with Sudan that is to lead to a normalization of ties, took place a month before the elections. These talks have been underway for months: the decision to make them public now is a way for Netanyahu to drive the conversation and shift the agenda.
There are parallels to Netanyahu’s situation and that of a post-impeachment Trump. The impeachment process was headline news for weeks in the US. But on Wednesday it is expected to end with a vote for Trump’s acquittal in the Senate.
Then what? The impeachment was a powerful instrument with which to club Trump. But now it has been taken away, and there are still nine months before the US elections. Did the Democrats fire all their ammunition too early?
The same can be asked regarding Netanyahu. The indictment against Netanyahu has been a major issue in the three campaigns over the last year. But now that the indictment was handed down and a case formally opened against him in court, what is left to keep the issue alive?
Netanyahu, in the meantime, also has to be concerned about the ammunition left at his disposal to shift the conversation. Over the last two weeks, he has greeted 50 world leaders in Jerusalem, welcomed the “Deal of the Century” in Washington, brought Issachar back from Russia and now gone to Uganda to establish ties with Sudan.
The prime minister’s problem? There are still four weeks before the election. What else can he do to continue to set the national agenda?


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