Friday, November 22, 2019

What's Next For Israel, Netanyahu?

Now what? Netanyahu indicted. Gantz fails to form government. Iran threat rising. Where does Israel go from here?

This has been a crazy week in Israel, and people are asking me what’s coming next. Here’s a rudimentary road map. Just keep in mind there are likely to be lots of roadblocks and detours ahead.
  1. On Wednesday night, Benny Gantz — head of the Blue & White centrist party — informed Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin that he was not able to form a government. This follows Netanyahu failing to form a government a month earlier.
  2. On Thursday morning, Rivlin informed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that a 21-day period now begins in which any Member of the Parliament can try to gather 61 signatures from fellow MKs to form a government and become Prime Minister.
  3. In theory, this meant both Netanyahu and Gantz could keep looking for ways to become PM — including forming a unity government in which the two would rotate the premiership.
  4. Then came the bombshell — on Thursday night, Attorney General Mandelblit (pictured) announced that after more than a year of deliberations he had decided to formally indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in three separate criminal cases.
  5. There is a strong likelihood that no one will be able to form a government in this 21 day period — if not, Israel will go to a stunning third round of elections. If this happens, the election would likely be held in March 2020.
  6. Recent polls are clear: most Israelis do not want a third election and plan to punish any candidate or party they perceive as having pushed the country down that road.
  7. This could cut hard against Bibi. The latest poll finds that 49% of Israelis blame Netanyahu for failing to agree to a unity government. Only 25% blame Gantz. Even 36% of right-wing voters blame Netanyahu.
  8. Actually, the situation is even more serious for Netanyahu. A new poll asks, “What should Netanyahu do after indictment?” 46% of Israelis say “Resign.” Only 30% say “Stay on until verdict.” Some 17% say, “Recuse himself.” Another 7% say they “Don’t know.” Remarkably, 30% of right-wing voters say “Resign.”
  9. Legally, Netanyahu should absolutely be considered innocent unless or until he is proven guilty in a court of law. Expect him to mount a vigorous defense in the media and the courtroom, even while employing many delaying tactics to slow down the legal process. He will also appeal to a Knesset Committee that has the power to issue him temporary immunity, so long as he serves as Prime Minister, further delaying the legal process.
  10. Politically, however, every supporter of Netanyahu is slowly — reluctantly — beginning to realize that he may be forced to step down, or even legally prevented from trying to form a new government.
  11. Without getting too technical here, let’s just note that Israel has never had a sitting Prime Minister be indicted. These are uncharted waters. And the big question is whether members of his own Likud Party will, at some point, make the following case: “Bibi, we’re sure that you’re innocent. But you cannot divide your days both defending yourself and the country. It’s too much for one man, and the public won’t stand for it. For the good of the country — and the good of the party —you need to step down, clear your name, and then come back into the political sphere.” 
  12. I can’t say how this will play out. No one knows. But our enemies — especially Iran, a grave and rising threat — are watching all this closely and could be tempted to take advantage of Israel’s political division and confusion. I ask you to be praying for Israel and for our leaders. And buckle up. The only thing that is clear is that the road ahead will be quite bumpy.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu sharply rebutted the Attorney General Amihai Mandlblit’s decision to indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of faith. He accused  law enforcement authorities of conducting “a polluted, tendentious inquiry” designed to set him up personally “or removal as prime minister.” 

Netanyahu vowed he would continue to lead the country unless forced out by a High Court petition. He accused the police and prosecution systems of years of legal abuse, citing examples. The people have lost faith in the law enforcement authorities, he said. They deserve a decent, law-abiding system, and demanded that an external, nonpartisan commission of inquiry investigate the investigators and clean up the system.

Mandelblit earlier laid out in a public press conference his reasoning for deciding to indict the prime minister, saying he did so with a heavy heart but in full conviction that he was performing his duty. 

Netanyahu fired back by charging police investigators backed by chief prosecutor Shay Nitzan of building their case against him by extorting lying admissions from witnesses by threats against their families. They should be brought to trial.

In a powerful fighting speech, Netanyahu said he was proud of what he had achieved for the country as its prime minister and vowed to continue. He promised to roll up his sleeves to persuade the voter in the coming election to make an honest decision to stand by him instead of those sworn to bring him down.

DEBKAfile reported earlier: 

Attorney General Amihai Mendelblit came to an earth-shattering decision on Thursday, Nov. 21 to prosecute Binyamin Netanyahu for bribery – the first such indictment ever brought against a sitting Israeli prime minister. The case against Netanyahu consists of three indictments:  bribery, fraud and breach of faith under File No. 4,000, fraud and breach of faith under Files 1000 and 2000. 

The AG has passed copies of the files to the Knesset Speaker in the event of the prime minister seeking to invoke the law permitting him to apply for immunity while in office against trial for a criminal offense.

File 4000 Bezeg-Walla charges Mr and Mrs. Shaul Elovich with bribing the prime minister, and obstruction of justice. Elovich is accused of ordering the Walla news site to offer Netanyahu favorable coverage in return for alleged concessions to the Bezeq corporation, which he owned. In File 2000, Arnon Mozes, proprietor and editor of the large-circulation Yediot Aharonot, is accused of offering to bribe the prime minister, which he did not accept although negotiations continued. File 1000 alleges that the prime minster inappropriately received a steady flow of cigars and champagne worth thousands of shekels from a rich friend.

The Justice Ministry announced that the AG’s decision followed an exhaustive hearing of the prime minister’s attorneys in October and a thorough investigation of all their claims in his defense. The prosecution’s conclusions, covering hundreds of pages, were that none of the facts and arguments presented in that hearing were relevant for altering its decisions regarding the allegations against the prime minister. The AG insisted that there were no grounds to claim that because no money changed hands, bribery had not occurred.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that he would ultimately accept the court’s decision in the legal cases against him, but continued to try and undermine the legitimacy of the corruption charges announced against him.
“Of course, I want to make clear that this whole process will ultimately be decided in court. We will accept the court’s decisions — regarding this there is no question,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to his Facebook page a day after claiming that police and state prosecutors were attempting a “coup” to remove him from power through fabricated indictments.
However, Netanyahu again reiterated his assertion that the decision to indict him had been reached by illegal means.
We will always act within the confines of the law, but this means that those who have not done so in the police or in the state prosecutor’s office must be probed. They must be taken care of, and there must be a correction made,” the prime minister continued.

“I want to make clear, those who choose the Prime Minister of Israel are the citizens,” Netanyahu added, thanking his supporters for standing by him and urging them to attend a rally on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, which organizers say they plan to further demonstrate their support for the premier.
“We currently have before us historic opportunities such as annexing the Jordan Valley, maintaining our security, building alliances with our neighbors and many things that must not be missed,” he said.
Still, his public acknowledgement that he will ultimately accept the court’s ruling appeared to be a step back.
Earlier Friday, citing Likud officials, the Ynet news site said Netanyahu intends to “wage war” against the indictment and seek to delegitimize the judicial system.
It also quoted political sources saying Netanyahu was planning to place the charges at the center of his campaign for the expected elections in March.

In a fiery speech Thursday after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases, the prime minister claimed the entire probe against him had been “tainted.”

“This tainted process raises questions among the public about the police’s investigations and the prosecution. The public has lost trust in these institutions. It’s a process that’s taken place over many years. This is selective enforcement on steroids. It’s enforcement just for me.”

Netanyahu listed a litany of complaints about the conduct of the investigation, charging: “These facts emphasize how much this process is tainted. It’s meant to topple a right-wing prime minister, me. I, who unlike the left and the slanted media, want to institute a free market, not only in the economy but also a free market of ideas, who wants to see a strong country, not a weak, shrunken, bowed country.”

He called to establish an independent commission to investigate the conduct of investigators in his cases.
“It’s time to investigate the investigators, to investigate the prosecution that approves these tainted investigations. I respect the police, I respect the prosecutors. There are hundreds of them. But we have to understand that they’re not above criticism. This isn’t just about transparency, it’s about accountability.”

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