The suspicions of corruption against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are reaching a critical mass, casting a pall over his continued tenure in office. Even a politician as experienced as Netanyahu, who is used to facing public criticism and opposition to his rule, will find it difficult to make decisions as usual in matters of state while anticipating his next meeting with police investigators, while his thoughts are troubled by what his former bureau chief turned state’s evidence, Ari Harow, will tell them.
Every decision he makes from now on, about war and peace, senior appointments and budgetary allocations, any position he takes in matters of public significance, will necessarily be perceived as part of his defense against the criminal suspicions. That will be the case whether he attacks the police and the prosecution and accuses them of attempting a coup against him, or whether he declares that he is working as usual and is not at all interested in the investigation. These contradictory responses, both of which Netanyahu has used over the past few days, attest that he is under heavy pressure, and is ready to undermine what is left of his credibility to buy a little more time in office.
The Basic Law on the Government does not provide a constitutional remedy to the situation of a sitting prime minister overshadowed by such heavy criminal suspicions. His resignation means the resignation of the entire government and that is required only when a final verdict is delivered and deems the conviction to carry moral turpitude. Suspending himself is a temporary situation; it automatically becomes resignation after 101 days, and is intended for instances in which the prime minister is ill or has lost his mind. It is also difficult to set a limit of 100 days for the investigation by the police and the prosecution, which will certainly branch out following Harow’s testimony and for a decision whether to indict the prime minister pending a hearing. Neither does the law recognize an unlimited leave of absence, during which an acting prime minister could be appointed.
In the absence of a legal and constitutional remedy, the decision on Netanyahu’s continued tenure under a cloud of suspicion moves to the political arena. It would be appropriate for Netanyahu to resign on his own accord and spare his cabinet and Knesset colleagues the need to demand that he step down. But it doesn’t seem as if Netanyahu intends to do this.
That leaves the task of ousting him from the leadership to all coalition members, first and foremost of the ruling party. It’s very unfortunate that they are taking the opposite approach. Some ministers and members of the coalition have issued declarations of support for Netanyahu, while others aren’t taking any position and as such are supporting the continuation of the current situation. This behavior is trapping Israel in a leadership limbo.
It would behoove those coalition members for whom the rule of law is important to demand that Netanyahu step down and focus on clearing his name, just as Ehud Barak demanded of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when suspicions were raised against him in the summer of 2008. That’s the only way they can justify their public positions.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel
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