Analysis |

All Hail Netanyahu, the Last Man Standing

Gabi Ashkenazi, Haim Ramon, Moshe Katsav and now Ehud Olmert ... the prime minister has somehow outwitted and outlasted them all.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Emil Salman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

During Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister and the following years, he lived in constant dread of the law enforcement agencies. He fully believed that, in the dark of night, the bad guys from the legal elites and state prosecution were plotting against him. The 1997 “Bar-On Hebron” affair, followed by cases involving Jerusalem contractor Avner Amedi and the alleged keeping of 700 gifts designated as state property, led to one police investigation after another. Time and again, Netanyahu – scorned and humiliated – was dragged to the interrogation room, while the cameras flashed. Even before he had emerged, the details had been leaked to the media.

At the same time, he saw the cases against politicians from rival factions close almost before they were opened. Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres, Isaac Herzog and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer are but a few examples.

Nobody could persuade Netanyahu that the cases against him were opened for good reason. He was convinced – still is – that the elites were out for his head because of his political affiliation to the wrong bloc; that their real motivation was based on his being the outcast, the rejected child who came from nowhere and did not belong.

More than a decade after visiting the police interrogation room for the last time, Netanyahu can no longer claim a double standard. Two people whom he saw as a clear threat – an immediate danger, even – have fallen into the law’s jaws. One is the former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who is embroiled in what was known as the Harpaz affair and has now become his own. The other is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose unconcealed aspirations to return to the Prime Minister’s Residence were apparently quashed Thursday, finally and officially.

To these, one might add Netanyahu’s old nemesis, Haim Ramon. The latter, who made Netanyahu’s life a misery in his first term, was charged and convicted of a sex offense in 2007. Another rival, Silvan Shalom, is currently immersed in his own troubles. Moshe Katsav, who was tipped as a possible usurper of Netanyahu (then the opposition leader) a year before ending his presidential term, is ticking off the days in his jail cell.

One way or another, legally or politically, all of Netanyahu’s adversaries have been smitten before him. He himself is involved in countless scandals – especially concerning finances, spending and boundless hedonism/self-indulgence. But he sees the police commissioner only at the cabinet table.

Olmert – no longer a candidate

Even before the dramatic plea bargain deal signed with Shula Zaken – his former confidant for over three decades – Olmert’s chances of a comeback were merely theoretical. On the one hand, they were based on two big “ifs” – if the Supreme Court grants his appeal and acquits him in the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases; and if the Tel Aviv District Court acquits him in the Holyland trial. On the other hand, they were fueled and inflamed by Olmert himself and some of his cronies, both because it pleased him and because it couldn’t harm his image as an international businessman to appear like a prime minister-in-waiting.

All this ended Thursday afternoon: The moment Shula Zaken opened her Pandora’s box and gave its treasures to the police, to be precise. Because it won’t be long now before the contents of that box will be known to all. Then, Olmert will be exposed in all his dubious glory. The public will no longer need the court’s verdict. Everyone will be able to form his or her own opinion about the man who was prime minister, and decide whether he is worthy of being elected again.

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