Will Haim Katz quit? Will it impact Netanyahu? - analysis

If Katz goes quietly and resigns everything quickly without a fight, then the dilemmas mostly fall away.

August 15, 2019 22:16
4 minute read.
Will Haim Katz quit? Will it impact Netanyahu? - analysis

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud), MK Motti Yovev (Bayit Yehudi), Social Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud), MK Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli (Bayit Yehudi) and Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan on the stage at Sa-Nur.. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s approved indictment of Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz for fraud and breach of public trust on Wednesday in the midst of a period when the Knesset is not in session set off a myriad of dilemmas.

Will Katz quit as a minister?

Will he quit as a Member of Knesset and waive his immunity from prosecution? Note these two issues are separate questions.
What impact will his decision have on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he is likely indicted by Mandelblit in December for bribery?

If Katz goes quietly and resigns everything quickly without a fight, then the dilemmas mostly fall away.

But his defense lawyer has already said he is weighing fighting to keep all of his posts, including asking the Knesset for immunity from prosecution.

How would things play out if these issues are contested?

First, the question of resigning as minister.

As opposed to the question of Katz’s status as an MK, where Mandelblit has implied he will wait to push for Katz to resign until the Knesset is in session to waive the minister’s immunity, the attorney-general said Wednesday that Katz should and must resign as minister immediately.

This conclusion is based on High Court of Justice precedent forcing Arye Deri to resign in the 1990s, and which has been followed since then, including when Avigdor Liberman resigned as foreign minister in 2012.

If Katz refused to resign immediately, Mandelblit indicated that Netanyahu would be obligated under the law to fire him.

However, when asked late Thursday by The Jerusalem Post about when and how Mandelblit would enforce these views, there were indications that the attorney-general is still taking a wait-and-see approach at present.

So Katz might get to keep his job until a petition to the High Court of Justice is filed to enforce his resignation.

Indications from good government NGOs were that they would wait to file a petition for some period of time, possibly even more than a week, but that they would move for sure to get the High Court to fire Katz before the September 17 election.

It would be very interesting to see whether the High Court would expedite the hearing or use the current court summer recess to push it off until after the election when things are a bit quieter.

The Knesset spot and immunity questions are more complex.

Officially, the body that has the power to decide whether to grant or remove Katz’s immunity is the Knesset, which may not be fully in session until sometime in November.

There is no precedent for the Knesset opposing an attorney-general’s request to remove an MK’s immunity for the purposes of indicting him.

But technically the Knesset could say no – and relations between the Knesset and Mandelblit are at an all-time low due to the controversy over the impending indictment of the prime minister.

This probably would not stand as a petition to the High Court likely forcing Katz to resign from the Knesset.
However, that process could drag into January or farther.

Interestingly, some commentators believe that Katz could also drag out remaining as a minister as long as he is maintaining a full immunity argument.
Or, at the very least, it is an untested issue before the High Court.

Ultimately, most of this would seem to still be a game of “when” he will need to resign, and who will force him, as opposed to “if”.
The bigger question, though, is will Netanyahu view what happens to Katz as directly impacting his situation in December?

When Liberman resigned in 2012, Netanyahu did not try to convince him to stay on (though he did hold the foreign minister’s portfolio for him.)

But if Netanyahu makes/lets Katz resign, there will be greater pressure on the prime minister himself to resign upon his likely indictment in December.

True, the High Court has not yet ruled that a prime minister must resign upon indictment the same as if he was a run of the mill minister.

Also, the dry Knesset law implies that a prime minister might only need to resign upon a final conviction with no more appeals.

This would be based on the idea that if a prime minister falls, it also causes the government to fall and prevents him from returning to his post even if he is found innocent at trial – all of which is different for a regular minister.

But Katz has been indicted only for fraud, whereas Netanyahu is expected to be indicted on the far more serious charge of bribery. This would make it look even more hypocritical for the prime minister to stay in office while having made a minister resign on lesser charges.

Further, many top former legal officials have said that the High Court will order Netanyahu to resign just like any other public official as the problem is not related to the specific job, but to the inability of an official with such a strong cloud of corruption over himself to continue to serve the public.

The High Court could use Netanyahu’s own decision to fire Katz against him.

If Netanyahu does not make Katz resign, it will expose him to further charges of corruption and ignoring the rule of law in the midst of election season.

Based on all of this, Mandelblit’s decision on Wednesday was just the beginning of a bigger battle.

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