‘Firewall’ to Be Placed Between Netanyahu and Ministers

The conflict of interest arrangement currently being drafted would also prevent senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office from acting on its behalf in matters relating to law enforcement and justice systems

Gidi Weitz
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Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem in 2018.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem in 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Gidi Weitz

A conflict of interest agreement being drafted for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would also apply to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn.

The agreement, covering the people and issues Netanyahu is not allowed to deal with because of his legal situation, is expected to be completed soon. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has insisted that the agreement be binding on Netanyahu even if he does not accept its terms. In addition to Ohana and Nissenkorn, the agreement will also apply to acting Prime Minister’s Office director general Ronen Peretz and head of Netanyahu’s bureau Asher Hayun.

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Haaretz has learned that according to the agreement, the two ministers in charge of the law enforcement and justice systems will be prohibited from receiving instructions from Netanyahu, directly or through a third party, on topics at the agreement’s core, such as appointments in these systems, legislation regarding them and dealing with their budgets.

These issues pertain mainly to Ohana, who is seen as one of the closest ministers to Netanyahu, while Nissenkorn is seen as his bitter rival.

However, these ministers’ names will not appear in the agreement and they will be notified of the prohibition in a letter from the attorney general. The senior officials in Netanyahu’s bureau will receive a similar notification, to prevent them from dealing with these matters at Netanyahu’s instructions.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a government meeting in Jerusalem in 2015.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

A source close to Netanyahu told Haaretz that he has given an undertaking not to act in conflict of interest, but a legal official conceded it would be hard to enforce the agreement if Netanyahu wishes to violate it.

The Justice Ministry has drafted a list of 60 witnesses for the prosecution in Netanyahu’s cases and he will be prohibited from dealing with their affairs.

The original draft agreement forbade Netanyahu from dealing with any of the witnesses’ affairs, but in conversations between the prime minister’s and the attorney general’s representatives, it was agreed that a shorter list would be put together.

This list will consist of witnesses who are civil servants and whose testimony in the trial is seen as essential. One of them is the Prime Minister’s Office’s legal adviser Shlomit Barnea-Farago, who testified in the case of the lavish gifts from tycoons and the Bezeq-Walla bribery case.

Last year Haaretz reported that Netanyahu wanted to dismiss Barnea-Farago for what he called “lack of trust,” but Mendelblit thwarted the move.

Under the conflict of interest agreement, Netanyahu will refrain from dealing with the affairs of 120 officials in the police force and the Israel Securities Authority who were involved in the corruption investigations against him. A few of them are expected to testify in his trial, and the promotion of senior police officers depends also on Ohana.

The agreement won’t ban Netanyahu from dealing with political appointments. The list of witnesses for the prosecution includes a few senior politicians, such as ministers Zeev Elkin and Tzachi Hanegbi.The issue of Netanyahu’s conflict of interest came up following petitions to the High Court demanding that he be prevented him from assembling a government, since he is indicted for criminal acts.

Demonstration against Netanyahu in Jerusalem, October 14, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Mendelblit submitted his legal opinion maintaining there’s no reason to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government, but added a clause referring to “special concrete circumstances” which would make it impossible for the prime minister to continue in his post.

After that Mendelblit gave Netanyahu a draft conflict of interest agreement banning him from dealing with appointments in the law enforcement and judicial systems, the prosecution and the police investigations department; legislation pertaining to morality or the trial, and decisions with a bearing on the trial.

Netanyahu rejected that draft, claiming that Mendelblit himself was acting in conflict of interest.

Mendelblit has recently linked Netanyahu’s stance regarding the conflict of interest agreement and his remaining in the prime minister’s post. In an interview with the newspaper Mishpacha, following Netanyahu’s attacks on the law enforcement system, Mendelblit said: “If you mix things up and use your power as prime minister to wield influence on your position from the criminal point of view, here is the beginning of a serious problem. How do we deal with this problem? If we really can’t deal with it, we may reach a stage in which the prime minister is incapable of performing his duty.”

Haaretz reported before that Mendelblit sees Netanyahu’s conduct as a reason to deem him incapable of performing his duty. However, a legal source told Haaretz that only extreme steps on Netanyahu’s part would make Mendelblit declare him incapable.

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