Treading water

Netanyahu is devoting a sizeable amount of his time solely on his political survival.

October 23, 2017 21:37
3 minute read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusa

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Politicians are supposed to be public servants. They are brought into power to implement policies designed to benefit the wider public, or at least the voting constituency who support them. Ideally, lawmakers should be held accountable if they fail to make the decisions and pass the legislation they promised.

But from even a cursory look at some of the bills up for consideration by the Knesset as MKs return to work for the winter session, one could easily get the impression that the job of the politician is to hold onto power.

One bill in particular appears to be a blatant attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remain in office. Called the “French bill” because of being based on an amendment to France’s constitution, the legislation would shield Netanyahu from future criminal investigations for the duration of his stint as prime minister.

True, like any other legislation, it would not apply retroactively. Therefore it would have no impact on the current police probe into several allegations of corruption against Netanyahu. But raising public consciousness about the existence of a “French bill” sends out the misguided message that the ongoing police investigations are somehow illegitimate or irrelevant to Netanyahu’s fitness as leader of the nation.

If the French bill was an isolated case it would hardly raise eyebrows. After all, except in cases that involve severe allegations of violence or suspicions that the nation’s security was compromised, there is logic in protecting a serving prime minister from endless police investigations that detract time and energy from his main job – running the country. And that is what the “French bill” does.

The bill makes does make sense – if it is combined with other measures – such as ensuring that time served in office will not be counted for the statute of limitations on prosecution and setting term limits for prime ministers.

But the bill being advanced cannot be divorced from other legislation and actions taken by Netanyahu.

Ahead of convening the winter session of the Knesset, Netanyahu launched an attack on the Israel Police for purportedly leaking information related to his criminal investigation at the rate of a “tsunami.”

He is also reportedly considering legislation that would lower the threshold for votes needed by political parties in order to get elected seats in the Knesset.

Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu is thinking of bringing the threshold back to 2%, but his spokesmen said the prime minister hasn’t decided on a number.

According to The Jerusalem Post’s Knesset reporter Lahav Harkov, a source close to Netanyahu said the idea came after the prime minister saw polls indicating that Shas and Yisrael Beytenu may not pass the current threshold.

Between the French bill, his attack on the Israel Police and deliberations over lowering the voting threshold, one gets the impression that Netanyahu is devoting quite a bit of time to his own political survival.

Netanyahu has also come around to supporting measures he refrained from backing in the past, in an apparent attempt to mollify the Right. These include legislation that would allow the Knesset the bypass Supreme Court decisions; the so-called Regulation Law that authorizes illegal building on private Palestinian land; and his repeal of a cabinet decision to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

Netanyahu hardly needs to be reminded of the myriad challenges that face the State of Israel. Until now, he has navigated Israel during one of the most volatile eras the Middle East has known, managing to keep the country out of military conflicts that have rocked the region. For this, he deserves a great deal of credit.

Domestically, the security situation has remained relatively stable and the economy has done surprisingly well, with high levels of employment and steady growth.

We appreciate that it is no easy task for Netanyahu to remain focused while police investigations are carried out against him. But as the Knesset winter session begins, Netanyahu should recall why millions of Israelis voted him into office. Treading water is not enough.

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