In Washington, Netanyahu Jokes About Corruption Probes and Warns of Snap Elections

En route to New York, Netanyahu tells foreign reporters that despite threat of early elections, he's risen in the polls

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a breakfast hosted by the Economic Club of Washington, March 7, 2018.
MARK WILSON/AFP

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the corruption probes involving him and warned of snap elections at Washington's Economic Club on Wednesday.

Netanyahu is in the U.S. for the AIPAC policy conference and meeting with Trump and American lawmakers.

When asked by a member of the audience what his favorite part of being prime minister was, he answered 'the investigations!"  An audience member asked if U.S. President Donald Trump gave him the red tie he was wearing as a present and Netanyahu joked, "we can investigate that, too!"

>> Netanyahu at AIPAC: The Good, the Bad and the Bubble | Analysis >>

Responding to a question about the possibility of early elections following a crisis in his coalition, Netanyahu said, "I want to finish the term of this government, if the coalition leaders agree that is what will happen. If they don’t, then we’ll have early elections."

Later, while on a plane to New York, Netanyahu discussed the coalition crisis with foreign reporters and told them that his meeting with Trump mainly focused on Iran.

Responding to a question whether his position has become weaker as a result of the crisis, Netanyahu said: "According to all public opinion surveys, my position hasn't gotten weaker – it's actually gotten stronger."

Netanyahu speaks to foreign reporters on the plane to New York

The prime minister added that he does not seek early elections and, instead, wishes to come to a solution with his coalition partners.

In a separate briefing with Israeli reporters, Netanyahu said of the coalition crisis: "With good will, it's possible to reach a solution," Netanyahu said. 

"I call it the eucalyptus grove. Some of my friends climbed to the top of the tree. They could reach an agreement with a broad solution. There is a solution if there is goodwill. But you have to come down from the treetops." 

Highlights of Netanyahu answering questions at at Washington's Economic Club

At the economic summit back in Washington earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu said the corruption investigations did not distract him from his day-to-day functioning as prime minister. "I can't say that I like it but it doesn't distract me," he said. "I'm committed to the role."

While speaking about U.S. presidents, Netanyahu said "I have fewer disagreements with Trump then I had with Obama. Actually, I still haven't found any issues with Trump."

Netanyahu was asked if he supports the two-state solution, and reiterated his idea of a "state minus," which refers to a demilitarized Palestinian state.

"I do not want the Palestinians as Israeli citizens, so they must have to get the power to govern themselves, but not the power to threaten Israel's security," Netanyahu said.

Sources close to the prime minister added that the current effort is focused on formulating a broad agreement in which the wording of the law will be agreed upon by the attorney general and the coalition majority, while ensuring that those who oppose the wording – such as Lieberman – won't leaving the government. "Netanyahu doesn't expect Lieberman to vote in favor of the election," the source says, "but he doesn't think Lieberman will run away."

"Days will tell us how important to Israel's security" this current trip to the U.S. was, the sources say, referring to the upcoming decision by the U.S. about the Iran deal.

Netanyahu sought to persuade the U.S. government to "completely change or completely abolish" the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Sources say that, on the economic side of things, Netanyahu will meet the U.S. secretary of the Treasure on Tuesday. The meeting will take place against the background of current tax rules that may apply to dual Israeli-American citizens.

Expectations are growing in Netanyahu’s governing coalition that the alliance could soon collapse, which would lead to early elections. The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, a member of Netanyahu's coalition, is threatening to withhold its support for the budget if new draft-exemption for ultra-Orthodox legislation isn’t passed to replace similar legislation that was struck down by the High Court of Justice.

A tsunami of allegations hit Netanyahu in mid-February, which also threatens Netanyahu's coalition. The police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for corruption. The premier has faced such crises before, but never on such an unprecedented scale. 

Four major police investigations are threatening to dethrone "King Bibi." Two have already seen the police recommend indictments against him, and two more are gathering momentum at a frightening rate for the prime minister.

Both the corruption investigations and ultra-Orthodox draft crisis threaten the stability of Netanyahu's government coalition, which only holds the majority by a few seats.