Can Bibi remain where he is when the police have concluded that he committed bribery, both as recipient of bribes, and as offering a bribe in two separate cases, and seems likely to be investigated with respect to two other cases where close aides are up to their kishkes in serious allegations?We'll be discussing that for some time.In a formal sense, there is yet to be a decision by the prosecutors to charge the Prime Minister, and if that occurs there'll be a lengthy trial and possibilities of appeal.Politics may work quicker. Bribery is a nasty word. The revelations by the police have gone significantly beyond the stories leaked to the media until now. Individual party colleagues are outspoken in supporting Bibi. They are reciting what we know, that only the prosecutor can decide on an indictment, and only the courts can decide if he's guilty. Other Likud MKs have been quiet, or less than enthusiastic in their support.The Prime Minister has accused the police of pursuing a preconception in a faulty investigation, and has recited the service that he has provided to Israel over a long career that began when he was an officer in an elite unit that freed passengers being held on an aircraft by terrorists.He asserted that it's inconceivable that he'd sacrifice public interest for the sake of cigars received from a friend. The police estimate the value of gifts at a million shekels, i.e., close to $300,000.Opposition Knesset Members are demanding an immediate resignation.There's been silence, moral discomfort, and ambiguities from Likud partners in the governing coalition. No major actor has indicated a willingness to leave the government, or to pressure a Netanyahu resignation.With the exception of Israel Hayom, i.e., Bibi press, owned by long-time supporter Sheldon Adelson, prominent media are stressing the accusation for bribery. The three major television networks arranged panels of commentators for the occasion of the police announcement on prime time Tuesday evening, with panel members competing in talking over one another to emphasize the accusations.Bibi's international standing may suffer. Google's summary of world news featured the latest revelations about him and the upper reaches of the Trump administration.The Prime Minister's most recent few days have not been pleasant. The White House termed "false" his claim to Likud supporters that he had discussed with key American personnel annexing parts of the West Bank. Israeli media translated the message as an accusation of lying.An early poll finds a thin plurality saying that the Prime Minister should resign. Many remain undecided. We'll see if post-Sabbath demonstrations move up from the few thousand participants in recent weeks to the hundred thousand or more who come out when Israelis are serious about something.The poll shows Bibi holding a thin lead among competitors as favored Prime Minister;Along with a discussion as to whether stink or incompetence associated with the peaks of Israeli and US governments is greater, those of us concerned about either or both countries can take some comfort in the capacity of institutions to keep things under control.Instances of Netanyahu in receiving or offering bribes did not produce the changes intended. In one case, other officials in key positions didn't bend to the pressure that Netanyahu is alleged to have applied. In another case, Bibi's offer of a bribe for a quid pro quo was not accepted.Neither failure cancels the accusation. A deal does not have to be completed for laws against offering or accepting a bribe to be applied.Americans and others can sleep in the confidence that Donald does not run the country or the world all by himself. The Constitution remains in force with respect to the powers held by Congress and the Courts. More than two centuries of lawmaking have provided professionals in the Departments with significant checks on what comes out of the Oval Office. The high profile title as Commander in Chief is limited by legislation defining a chain of command.Last weekend, Israelis saw that the Prime Minister, along with the Defense Minister and senior military personnel dealt effectively with an incursion of an Iranian drone from Syria. The plane was brought down within a minute of crossing into Israeli airspace. Then the Iranian base from which the drone came, along with a substantial part of Syria's anti-aircraft facilities and communications with its airforce were destroyed, at the cost of one Israel plane. Often one sees indications that the core of government, i.e., long-serving, non-political professionals, run things, with politicians making inputs that may be marginal in importance. It's part of the game that officials at the top get the credit, or blame for what happens, or doesn't happen.No doubt we'll be entertained, worried, or simply kept busy by Donald as well as Bibi for the foreseeable future. In both cases, politics may be more significant for what happens to them than the formal procedures of Impeachment in the US or indictment and trial in Israel.There are many details in the police report and the comments Bibi has made since its release. Commentators, Bibi, his political supporters and opponents are cherry picking what suits them in order to advance one view or another. We'll be a lot older, if we're still here, when charges against the Prime Minister reach their conclusion. The police needed two years from the onset of their investigation to the conclusions announced this week, with other allegations about Netanyahu still pending. Even though the prosecutors participated with the police in their inquiries, they will review again what the police did, and it is likely to be several months before the Legal Adviser to the Government (Attorney General) says that he's ready to provide the Prime Minister with the hearing to which senior officials are entitled in the case of a criminal proceeding. The Prime Minister's attorneys will get some time (months?) to prepare for the hearing, after which the Legal Adviser to the Government will need more time to ponder the issue of an indictment.Then how many years for court proceedings and appeal?The ultimate punishment of politics would be resignations forced by overt threats to begin impeachment in the US or by party or coalition partners to vote against the Prime Minister in Israel. Even short of those possibilities, both leaders seem likely to spending a great deal of time defending themselves, and may find weakness in their popular support and capacity to lead those who have been their colleagues.How long can Bibi maintain his position while the media are as unfriendly as in recent days? Not only do commentators relish the details and their capacity to escalate in the adjectives used for what he is alleged to have done, but recordings of a screeching wife and sex-obsessed son add to what comes from radio, television, newspapers, social media and bloggers.It's hard to hide behind official proprieties in the 21st century.A limping government, especially one in a parliamentary setting where colleagues can change the person at the top, may come to an end while judicial authorities are years from conclusion.Most assured, we'll have days of high commotion.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem