With both sides of this country's deep political divide accusing each other of attempting a coup d'état, it is time for a reset.
Since February, former prime minister Ehud Barak, one of the driving forces behind the anti-judicial reform movement, has accused the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of pursuing a coup d'état through its judicial reform. That accusation has been a constant refrain in the anti-reform protests, which are again gaining steam.
On Wednesday, Likud and coalition partners accused the police and state prosecution of their own attempted coup d'état when the decision was made to indict Netanyahu in 2018. This charge came after former police commissioner Ron Alsheich said in an Army Radio interview that the police and State Attorney’s Office assumed Netanyahu would resign or be replaced as the party's leader once indictments were handed down.
Nobody, he said, assumed that Netanyahu would remain and fight from within the system, leading to the ongoing turmoil in the country. Pressed about whether the indictments would have been issued had the state known Netanyahu would not step down, Alsheich sidestepped the question, calling it a theoretical matter.
Even as the testimony of Arnon Milchan in the Netanyahu gifts affair case—Case 1000—continued in Brighton, England, with Sarah Netanyahu present to watch Milchan catalog the gifts he gave her family, Alsheich's interview was a true bombshell. It provided ample ammunition to the pro-Netanyahu forces who continue to argue that the cases against the prime minister are weak, should never have been pursued, and were an effort to drive him from office.
Likud and coalition officials jumped on the interview to call for the case to be thrown out and charges filed against Alsheich.
Meanwhile, former Attorney-General Mandelblit and the State Attorney’s Office issued statements asserting that the decision to indict was made only on the basis of the evidence and nothing else.
Alsheich's comments were the second bombshell in this case this week, both of which had nothing to do with the Milchan testimony.
The first bombshell came last Thursday when Channel 13 leaked that the three judges trying the case held a closed-door meeting with the lawyers of both sides and said it was unlikely the state would prove its case on the most severe charge—bribery in Case 4000 — and that "the good of the country requires a plea bargain."
Predictably, these comments triggered an outcry.
The Defense used the comments to argue that the words proved that Netanyahu's case was a waste of time and should never have been brought to court.
Others, however, asked how dare the judges talk about "the good of the country," and that determining what is for the good of the country is not their job. The job of the court, according to this argument, is to determine whether the accused committed the alleged crimes.
The prosecution, meanwhile, pledged to continue to plod on, with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara stating that the judges' warnings had changed nothing and that the state would continue with its case and not take it to criminal arbitration.
This is a shame because the "good of the country" does indeed require a plea bargain so that this overlong saga can be put behind it and Israel can move on.
Watergate and Netanyahu-gate
Let's compare this to the Watergate scandal. On May 28, 1972, a break-in occurred at the headquarters of the Democratic Party National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.
A year later, on May 17, 1973, the US Senate Watergate Committee hearings began. On August 4, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned. On September 8 of that year, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. From start to finish, Watergate -- which unseated a sitting president -- lasted 29 months.
Now consider Netanyahu-gate.
The police began formally investigating Netanyahu in December 2016. In February 2018, they recommended an indictment. On November 21, 2019, the Attorney General formally indicted Netanyahu on charges of breach of trust, accepting bribes, and fraud.
Netanyahu's trial formally opened in the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2000. Witnesses began their testimony about a year later on April 5, 2021. And the trial, with twists and turns, ups and downs, has been going on ever since.
From the beginning of the investigations until today, the Netanyahu saga has already lasted 78 months. And there is still no end in sight. The Netanyahu affair has already lasted more than two-and-a-half times as long as it took for the entire Watergate scandal to unfold, and—again—no one can tell when it will end, especially when considering the possibility of appeals.
This prolonged saga makes it difficult to govern effectively, scorching both the judicial and political landscapes.
As the country faces a re-emergence of massive protests and disruptions of everyday life over the judicial overhaul issues, healing is needed. But this healing cannot occur with this case continually looming over and coloring everything.
If the trials were to run their full course, the verdict would not satisfy everyone. If convicted, pro-Netanyahu forces would claim he was framed, while if acquitted, the anti-Netanyahu camp would argue that the system was not strong enough to convict him. True believers on each side will not be convinced until they see their desired outcome.
Likewise, a plea bargain, especially one allowing Netanyahu to remain in power, would leave many dissatisfied. However, it would also unclog a major obstacle to good governance by opening up political options.
Those who previously refused to sit with Netanyahu while he is on trial, such as National Unity leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beitenu head Avigdor Liberman, could now consider it. This could increase the possibility of a unity government where Netanyahu is less dependent on any single party in his coalition—such as Itamar Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit or Bezalel Smotrich's Religious Zionist Party. It would also be easier for a unity government—rather than the opposition and coalition—to find common ground on the necessary speed and extent of judicial reform.
Once again on the brink of domestic chaos that could invite military adventurism from Israel's enemies, the country needs a domestic reset. The three Jerusalem District Court judges have provided the reset button; now someone just needs to push it.