Analysis: Why AG may announce intent to indict PM before elections?

There were multiple times this year where early elections could have been set to take place long before Mandelblit would need to announce his decision about an indictment.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Why might Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announce his leaning to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the upcoming April 9 early elections?
In June, The Jerusalem Post learned Mandelblit had a strong leaning to file an indictment against Netanyahu for public corruption, but wanted to put the prime minister in the driver’s seat about timing.
It was Mandelblit’s hope that Netanyahu would get the message that it was time to voluntarily cut a deal and step down without the need for him to file an indictment which would likely push him out.
The attorney-general admires Netanyahu as a leader, and wanted to give him a dignified way to leave office, if possible.
As a second-best option, it seemed Mandelblit hoped that Netanyahu would call an early election before the attorney-general had to announce his decision on the public corruption probes. Or perhaps Netanyahu would wait to hold elections until the fall of 2019 so that Mandelblit’s decision would not fall close to the actual election date.
There were multiple times this year where early elections could have been set to take place long before Mandelblit would need to announce his decision about an indictment.
Originally, the Post had learned that Mandelblit’s decision timeline was between the end of 2018 and March 2019.
Later, it seemed that Mandelblit would be ready to push his decision back to the Passover holiday in mid-April to allow early elections to occur before then.
But early elections kept getting pushed off.
Finally, former police chief Roni Alsheich finished his term three weeks ago with the issuing of the police’s final recommendations to indict Netanyahu.
In brisk fashion, the state prosecution team mostly concurred and transferred its recommendations to Mandelblit.
Until this point, Mandelblit and his representatives had repeatedly pushed back hard against any need to decide before elections.
With the final police and state prosecution recommendations, the game changed.
It now appears Mandelblit started to feel he was being taken for granted.
Suddenly, there were leaks that he was back on track to decide by March, and Mandelblit’s meetings with the state prosecution to decide the issue started officially already on Sunday.
On Monday, the Justice Ministry issued a mixed statement about the timing.
On one hand, the statement said that the attorney-general would continue his staff meetings without delay. On the other hand, he said that he would follow regulations about decisions close to elections which lean toward pushing off any decision which might be viewed as having politicized timing.
If Mandelblit announces his intent to indict Netanyahu before April 9, the prime minister’s supporters will doubtlessly accuse him of seeking to unduly influence the election.
And it is true that there are rules against decisions right before elections.
However, confronted with the idea that Netanyahu picked April 9, as opposed to a later early election date, in order to box-in and pressure Mandelblit into pushing off his decision until after elections, indications were that the attorney-general is now beyond such pressure.
Further, though former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein himself generally leaned toward pushing off decisions before elections, specifically with the important decision to indict Avigdor Liberman, he believed the public interest in the voters knowing Liberman’s status trumped generally policy.
Some are speculating that Mandelblit will go back to his original plan of avoiding publishing a decision near the elections.
But if Netanyahu took Mandelblit for granted one too many times, he may be in for a pre-election surprise like the kind served up by Weinstein.