Analysis

Indicted Netanyahu Loses Control of His Destiny for the First Time

It's not clear why the prime minister submitted his request for immunity in the first place, only to withdraw it. The question is, where will he go from here?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence, January 24, 2020.
Emil Salman

The question that must be asked is not why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his request for immunity on Tuesday, but rather why he submitted it in the first place.

From the moment Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party jumped on the opponents’ bandwagon, there was a solid majority of 65 Knesset members against immunity. It was high time to abandon the idea, and yet Netanyahu still waited it out, paying a price for the campaign he continued in the Knesset and the media.

Did his lawyers advise him to insist uselessly on immunity, against the advice of ministers Yariv Levin, Zeev Elkin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and others? Was this a perpetuation of a delay tactic by any means, kosher or not, to avoid the inevitable end of facing the judges? If so, these lawyers aren’t worth their price (and the delays). If the source of the pressure and the obsession with trolling the system and waging a campaign of legal and political bloodletting came from the Prime Minister’s Residence, then the picture is a little clearer.

Perhaps the original idea was to exhaust the strategy he has followed since the start of the investigations, even with an approaching third election – in other words, to inflame his political base’s war with a “deep state” conspiracy of trumped up charges, a coup d’état and all the rest of the nonsense. Now that he’s placing a dramatic change of direction on the table in the guise of a diplomatic issue called the deal of the century, he needs to remove all the obstacles in his way.

Whatever the case may be, we may now attribute to Prime Minister and Defendant Netanyahu the slogan made famous by Winston Churchill about Britain and France during World War II, only in reverse: He chose war, and he will get shame, too.

And while we’re on the topic of Netanyahu’s attorneys, on Tuesday morning attorneys Yossi Ashkenazi and Amit Hadad send Edelstein a letter comprised of just three lines, informing him they are withdrawing their honorable client’s request for immunity.

With a step that cannot be viewed as anything short of chutzpah and rudeness, esteemed colleagues Ashkenazi and Hadad referred the Knesset speaker to the prime minister’s Facebook page, where he could read the rationale behind the decision. One wouldn’t even write something like this to a colleague, much less an official, especially one who has done his best to save Netanyahu the embarrassment of a parliamentary process, even on this day, with the symbolic step of staying away from the plenum which he is supposed to conduct even when it’s uncomfortable.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s swift submission of the indictment to the Jerusalem District Court turns another page in the brief history of this fickle election. It’s doubtful that the first court session – where the indictment is read out and the accused is asked to stand up and state whether he admits to the charges – will take place before the election. And yet, the public realized something else today, which it has had a hard time internalizing: The prime minister of Israel is on his way to the witness stand to face three serious indictments.

This is the first time that Netanyahu has totally lost control over his destiny. While his fate was in the hands of law enforcement, which is at least partially controlled by the judicial system, it was easier for him to wage war – that war of shaming, insulting, inciting and sowing division against the investigators, the prosecutors and the attorney general. Now the court will take matters into its hands.

Now Netanyahu will have to decide whether to continue down the same path and turn it into a target for himself and his envoys in the media, social media, the street and in his party, which has long ago become a team of subservient butlers. But continuing to walk down this path is like the accused willfully committing suicide.

In tandem with the diplomatic-annexationist-regional-security discussion that has in the space of a moment grabbed ahold of his agenda, there will be an additional discussion. This one will question whether a person accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust can serve as prime minister at all, and particularly with regard to spearheading dramatic, historic steps. Perhaps the only way to make these movies is intertwined with the path that his late attorney Yaakov Weinroth begged him to take: a plea deal and a dignified retirement. This dignified departure would come following a small picture of a victory – one of Naama Issachar getting off the plane with him – and a larger, triumphant photo of a diplomatic step that includes annexation, one which would redefine his problematic legacy, to say the very least.