Wednesday 19 September 2018

Netanyahu clinging on to power amid fraud claim

A protester holds a sign bearing a cartoon of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara sitting in a jacuzzi tub holding a cigar and a bottle of champagne respectively, during a demonstration calling upon him to resign in front of Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem yesterday. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Getty
A protester holds a sign bearing a cartoon of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara sitting in a jacuzzi tub holding a cigar and a bottle of champagne respectively, during a demonstration calling upon him to resign in front of Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem yesterday. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Getty

Raf Sanchez in Jerusalem

A defiant Benjamin Netanyahu vowed last night to continue to lead Israel faithfully.

He was speaking as the Israeli police recommended that he be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The police decision was long expected but it still landed like a bombshell and many Israeli commentators are saying openly that Mr Netanyahu's 11 years in power are coming to an end.

But Mr Netanyahu has forcefully denied any wrongdoing and said he will not resign, so there is still a long process ahead on both the legal and political fronts.

The recommendations made by Israel's police are just that - recommendations. The final decision on whether or not Mr Netanyahu will be charged lies with Avichai Mandelblit, Israel's attorney general.

Mr Mandelblit was appointed by the prime minister and previously served as Mr Netanyahu's cabinet secretary. Before that he was a military prosecutor and a judge.

Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit (l), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) and the chief of the Israeli police, Commissioner Roni Alsheikh
Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit (l), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) and the chief of the Israeli police, Commissioner Roni Alsheikh

He has tried to keep a low profile in government but that became impossible as the public realised he would eventually hold Mr Netanyahu's fate in his hands.

Mr Mandelblit and his lawyers will now study the police recommendations.

If they feel there is sufficient evidence they will announce they are considering an indictment. There will then be a hearing and Mr Netanyahu will have a chance to try to convince prosecutors not to charge him.

After that the decision on whether to charge is up to Mr Mandelblit.

The decision process could take weeks or months, although politicians have urged the attorney general to move quickly to settle the uncertainty hanging over Israel's leadership. Mr Netanyahu has been in this situation twice before. In 1997, amid a scandal over political appointments, and in 2000, after being accused of illegally taking items from the prime minister's residence when he left office, police recommended that he should be prosecuted. Both times prosecutors declined to bring an indictment.

Even if Mr Netanyahu is formally charged with a crime, there is no legal requirement for him to resign. Whether he can survive politically is another matter.

Investigations

The Israeli leader said that the police investigations were simply the latest of 15 different probes that had been launched against him to try to force him from power.

"Every single one of these attempts, without exception, led to nothing. I know the truth, so I can tell you, this time it will also lead to nothing," he said.

But while Mr Netanyahu says he is confident he will be exonerated on the legal front, he has a complex political task ahead to hold on to his job.

The first threat is from the leaders of his partner parties within his coalition government. Mr Netanyahu heads the Likud, the largest party in Israel's parliament, but he relies on five smaller parties for his majority. So far, the other party leaders have said they will not pull out of the coalition and bring down the government. They said they will wait instead for the attorney general's final decision.

Naftali Bennett, the education minister and head of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, said Mr Netanyahu was "not living up" to moral standards but said he would wait for prosecutors to decide.

Moshe Kahlon, the finance minister and head of the centrist Kulanu party, called for the legal process to be allowed to play out "in an orderly, professional and level-headed manner".

But Mr Netanyahu's partners could change their stance as the Israeli public digests the news of the police recommendations. They could decide it was ­damaging them to stay in government with a man accused of accepting bribes.

Or they might see a political opportunity for themselves if Mr Netanyahu's poll numbers sink and they come to believe that they could benefit at his expense during an early election.

If the attorney general does decide to charge Mr Netanyahu, then his position becomes perilous and probably untenable.

His coalition partners are likely to walk out, triggering new elections.

Irish Independent

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