Benjamin Netanyahu opened his speech on Tuesday with a plea for leniency, citing his glorified service in the Israeli army, his success at the United Nations, the reforms he instituted as finance minister over a decade ago. This looked like an attempt to evoke sympathy from his voters, who were still in the early stages of digesting not just their dinner, but the police recommendations to indict him.
It seems Netanyahu doesn’t intend to resign and call an early election. He is more likely to dig in at his job, which he believes grants him the best defense from a decision to prosecute him. By doing so, he may be squandering the only chance he has to win the elections; if they’re held in about a year, he may not make it to them, and if he does, he may lose them.
Netanyahu looked stressed. One could not ignore the uncomfortable similarity between this scene, playing out on the balcony of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, and an event that took place 10 years ago. Back then, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, also a corruption suspect, turned to the citizens of Israel and declared: I did not take bribes. On Tuesday night, Netanyahu seemed closer than ever to the fate that befell his predecessor. The citizens of Israel deserve something better than corrupt, greedy leaders who have lost all sense of morality.
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The bar set by the police for Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is high: Bribery, fraud and breach of trust – times two. Case 1000 involves an unthinkable amount of money: One million shekels for the goods and “gifts” that the two billionaires, Arnon Milchan and James Packer, personally shelled out for what Netanyahu called “a cigar,” as that one groveling rabbi put it.
The police revealed what Milchan received in return, and it’s worth tens or hundreds of millions of shekels. Not just “a visa.” And like in any top-notch drama, we learned about a secret, surprising witness: Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, who was finance minister when asked to help the aforementioned expat billionaire.
The recommendation to also prosecute Netanyahu for bribery in Case 2000 – the one involving the discussions with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes – contrasted with the leaks from the police in recent weeks that no recommendation would be made in that case because of “legal difficulties.” Tuesday it seemed as if that had been deliberate disinformation meant to make someone complacent. Anyone who attributes that move to Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich’s past in the Shin Bet security service does so on his own authority.
The police sewed up Netanyahu from head to toe – a hermetic seal, at least in the eyes of a layman. As Mendelblit said a few months ago, when things are publicized, the public will understand why so much time passed until the investigations were completed. He would have to be a Shi’ite suicide bomber to now close two cases that he and his representatives oversaw so closely and suffice with a public reprimand. He is certainly praying that Netanyahu steps off the public stage before he makes a decision.
The most urgent and practical message in Netanyahu’s remarks were aimed at his coalition colleagues: The government will finish its term, he part announced to them, part pleaded with them. His plea is expected to fall on attentive ears. Finance Minister and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon has no interest in dismantling the government. He’ll wait for the attorney general’s decision. So it is with the rest of his ministerial colleagues, unless something totally unexpected happens.
Politically, they’re acting correctly. The law that requires a prime minister to resign only after he’s convicted of something is on their side. But Netanyahu is now weak and vulnerable. He has no more power over them. He knows and they know that while this might not be the end, it’s the beginning of the end.
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