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Home > Publications > PISM Spotlights > PISM Spotlight: New Charges Against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

PISM Spotlight: New Charges Against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

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21 December 2018
Michał Wojnarowicz
no. 91/2018
Israeli police have recommended the country’s attorney general indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on additional corruption charges. Despite the accusations, the prime minister continues to maintain a strong political position, although this will be one of the most important challenges to the stability of his leadership in the long term.

Why were additional charges recommended?

The police accusations of corruption are the result of an investigation codenamed Case 4000 and concern the years 2014-2017, when Netanyahu was the minister of communications. He is alleged to have issued advantageous regulatory decisions regarding the main Israeli telecommunications company, Bezeq, headed by Shaul Elovitch. In return, the prime minister and his wife Sara Netanyahu (the police recommended that she also be indicated) would benefit from easing criticism of the online portal Walla!, one of the most popular news site in Israel and owned by Elovitch. In addition to Case 4000”, this year the police also issued recommendations to the attorney general in two other investigations concerning Netanyahu, “Case 1000 and Case 2000”.

What actions can the attorney general take?

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will decide whether a formal indictment will be made against the head of government and on what precise charges. In addition to Case 4000”, a decision regarding the other investigations is also awaited. This would not mean Netanyahu’s removal from office, although according to the current Israeli political practice, a PM under prosecution would resign prior to court proceedings. Mandelblit’s decision may be delayed if new parliamentary elections (formally scheduled for November 2019) are declared. He would do so to avoid accusations of deliberate attempts to influence the electoral process. Currently, court proceedings are being conducted against Sara Netanyahu regarding waste of public funds.

Does the new recommendation of charges seriously undermine Netanyahu?

Despite the accusations, Netanyahu maintains high public support relative to the political landscape. According to polls, almost 40% of Israelis still view the current PM as the most suitable person to hold this office (the next candidate had about 10%). A large part of his electorate rejects the allegations against him and considers them an attempt to remove the popular leader. More challenging for Netanyahu would be an escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories (including a potential failure of Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas) or on the border with Lebanon. In November, Netanyahu took over the defence minister’s portfolio, promising more decisive action to ensure security. Since then, operation Northern Shield was initiated with the aim of destroying Hezbollah tunnels penetrating the territory of Israel and anti-terrorist activities in the West Bank were intensified.

Could the charges lead to early elections?

Despite the additional charges and the recent Cabinet crisis (party Israel Our Home left the government), the coalition leaders have not decided to call early elections. Netanyahu wants to maintain the status quo as long as possible and use this time to strengthen his political base in the election year. Due to the coalition’s slim parliamentary majority (61 out of 120 MPs), the chances are still high that disputes over the most difficult legislation politically (e.g., military service of the ultra-Orthodox population) will led to shortening the government’s term. Even in the case of an election victory, the possible indictment and trial will constitute a significant burden on Netanyahu’s and his coalition partners’ image. Maintaining his power in the next term may require broad political concessions (e.g., regarding settlements or social transfers), as well as demonstrating effectiveness in regional foreign policy (e.g., deepening cooperation with Arab states against Iran).

What actions can the attorney general take?

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will decide whether a formal indictment will be made against the head of government and on what precise charges. In addition to Case 4000”, a decision regarding the other investigations is also awaited. This would not mean Netanyahu’s removal from office, although according to the current Israeli political practice, a PM under prosecution would resign prior to court proceedings. Mandelblit’s decision may be delayed if new parliamentary elections (formally scheduled for November 2019) are declared. He would do so to avoid accusations of deliberate attempts to influence the electoral process. Currently, court proceedings are being conducted against Sara Netanyahu regarding waste of public funds.

Does the new recommendation of charges seriously undermine Netanyahu?

Despite the accusations, Netanyahu maintains high public support relative to the political landscape. According to polls, almost 40% of Israelis still view the current PM as the most suitable person to hold this office (the next candidate had about 10%). A large part of his electorate rejects the allegations against him and considers them an attempt to remove the popular leader. More challenging for Netanyahu would be an escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories (including a potential failure of Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas) or on the border with Lebanon. In November, Netanyahu took over the defence minister’s portfolio, promising more decisive action to ensure security. Since then, operation Northern Shield was initiated with the aim of destroying Hezbollah tunnels penetrating the territory of Israel and anti-terrorist activities in the West Bank were intensified.

Could the charges lead to early elections?

Despite the additional charges and the recent Cabinet crisis (party Israel Our Home left the government), the coalition leaders have not decided to call early elections. Netanyahu wants to maintain the status quo as long as possible and use this time to strengthen his political base in the election year. Due to the coalition’s slim parliamentary majority (61 out of 120 MPs), the chances are still high that disputes over the most difficult legislation politically (e.g., military service of the ultra-Orthodox population) will led to shortening the government’s term. Even in the case of an election victory, the possible indictment and trial will constitute a significant burden on Netanyahu’s and his coalition partners’ image. Maintaining his power in the next term may require broad political concessions (e.g., regarding settlements or social transfers), as well as demonstrating effectiveness in regional foreign policy (e.g., deepening cooperation with Arab states against Iran).

 


 
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