How the election and Netanyahu’s case will impact each other

With the country on the way to a fourth round of elections on March 23 and a likely third national lockdown in the near future, will the trial be further delayed?

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
There is no question that the three rounds of Israeli elections in 2019-2020 as well as the coronavirus crisis delayed progress in the public corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
With the country on the way to a fourth round of elections on March 23 and a likely third national lockdown in the near future, will the trial be further delayed?
In short, the answer is maybe a little, but not much.
Law enforcement’s probe of Netanyahu dates back to 2016 and went public in 2017.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced his likely intent to indict Netanyahu in February 2019, his final decision in November 2019 and filed the indictment in January 2020.
All of this was slow moving, and the last few moves were drawn out three to five months, though not stopped, by elections.
The first pretrial hearings were supposed to start in March, but they got pushed off until May due to the first coronavirus wave.
However, that was really the end of the political and corona impacts on the trial.
Hearings were held in May, July, November and December, and while the case has not moved fast, given the complex issues inherent in it, the pace is within the spectrum of what might happen in other cases.
Even when Netanyahu’s defense team has had multiple successes in getting the Jerusalem District Court to order the prosecution to hand over some new documents and to amend certain aspects of the indictment, the start of the trial has only moved back from January to February.
At this point, the judges could care less about elections in terms of when they start calling witnesses.
A more interesting question is whether the final January 13 pretrial hearing will take place as scheduled if a third national lockdown is ongoing at that time.
Still, the way the judges have given extensions of days or weeks, instead of months, for recent legal changes suggests that any corona delay would also probably not push things off more than a few weeks.
The 10-week delay that happened between March and May was a one-time event when there was a worry that the entire planet might melt down.
Already during the second lockdown, the courts were far more open, and there was an approach that things must move forward given that the world may be surrounded by corona issues deep into 2021.

This is basically a nonissue.
Netanyahu will only testify for the defense side of the case, which may be six months or even more than a year away since the prosecution has a large number of witnesses to call first.
Flipping the question from law into politics: Will the fact that these elections will take place as witnesses start to testify against Netanyahu have much of an impact?
Although back in early 2019 conventional wisdom was “yes,” three rounds of elections would suggest the answer is “no.”
Those portions of the public who are stalwart supporters of Netanyahu appear to have made their mind up that they will support him as long as he runs in an election – or at least a conviction forces him to step down.
Preliminary indictment versus final indictment versus witnesses does not seem to matter much, other than on the margins.
That does not mean there are no indirect impacts.
Indirectly, part of the reason Netanyahu has had such trouble maintaining a stable government since December 2018 has been an increasing number of political forces in the Center-Left, and now even on the Right, who have decided his legal troubles are a basis to challenge him.
If some kind of new coalition between Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Liberman and parties on the Center-Left comes together and ousts Netanyahu, his legal troubles will certainly be one of the engines.