Opinion

There's Reality, and Then There's Netanyahu's Reality

There's no question that the prime minister will be forced to resign; the only thing open to debate is when it's going to happen.

A worker installing a banner depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv during the 2013 election campaign.
Baz Ratner/Reuters

There’s no such thing as reality for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; there’s just reality the way he presents it. And boy, does he know how to present: Whether to an audience or in front of a camera, the show goes on with a confident mien – even when the insides are churning and the throat burns like a lighted cigar in a suit pocket.

But no actor is irreplaceable. A draft indictment is coming. It’s not just a local matter, nor is it merely an embarrassment meaning he’ll fly to the White House above clouds of suspicion. The Israeli criminal case has an American element, which could mean a corruption probe there as well due to the American law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is blind to political or diplomatic considerations. No country, corporation or senior official is immune – either from interrogation or a lawsuit.

Last Friday, during outgoing President Barack Obama’s final moments in the White House, the Justice Department in Washington announced that Sheldon Adelson’s corporation, Las Vegas Sands, had admitted attempting to influence foreign officials in China and Macao with personal payments in the last decade, and would be paying a fine of nearly $7 million. It was not alleged that Adelson was personally involved in the affair.

The Israeli Justice Ministry’s international affairs department, headed by Yuval Kaplinsky, conducts dozens of investigations and cooperative judicial efforts abroad every year. When suspicions against Netanyahu spread across the sea and touched on the Americans as well, investigators there were naturally interested. Experts in legal assistance call such incidents “romantic triangles” – an Israeli investigation, an American investigation and, in the middle, the suspicions of both countries.

The practical question now is not whether Netanyahu will be forced to resign, but when – and what the political outcome of his departure will be. Hope is building that a Knesset election will be held, after which an alliance of peace, equality and prosperity will rule over the Holy Land. But the likelihood of this happening this year is very low, as long as lawmakers are nostalgically clinging to the first half of their term in office. But if the process persists into 2018, the downward spiral toward election will accelerate.

As opposed to Netanyahu’s propaganda that “a prime minister is replaced only at the ballot box,” there is no correlation between a premiership vacancy and advancing the general election. Prime ministers have been replaced by other members of their party seven times without an election being called: Moshe Sharett replaced David Ben-Gurion; Levi Eshkol replaced Ben-Gurion; Golda Meir replaced Eshkol; Yitzhak Rabin replaced Meir; Yitzhak Shamir replaced Menachem Begin; Shimon Peres replaced Rabin; Ehud Olmert replaced Ariel Sharon. The only exception was when Olmert resigned and Tzipi Livni was unable to form a government, with Shas’ Eli Yishai and the Pensioners’ Rafi Eitan gambling on Netanyahu.

When a prime minister announces his/her departure from office, or a vacancy is created due to the death of the premier, or the PM is unable to govern, the cabinet meets and chooses a temporary head. Every vote is counted. That’s why two heads of Knesset factions hurried to bring in government ministers to represent them: Likud’s Netanyahu brought in Ayoub Kara; Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon brought in Eli Cohen.

A temporary premiership grants momentary prestige and possibly an advantage at the starting gate, but it does not ensure victory in the actual race: Yigal Allon was interim prime minister for a single week after Eshkol died but never became PM.

The focus then moves to the president, who meets with all the heads of the factions in the Knesset. President Reuven Rivlin will ignore Netanyahu’s will and instead examine the possibility of establishing a new government in the current Knesset. In this regard, the Likud constitution gives immense power to the Likud Central Committee chairman – currently Haim Katz – because the committee chooses the head of the movement, who is also its candidate for prime minister. Katz’s choice will seemingly be the next prime minister, because forming a new government will not be very complicated. Everything is transparent: it will be no surprise to see Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog as foreign minister and his colleague Livni as justice minister.

At the moment, the balance of power within Likud marks Yisrael Katz as the front-runner. When he stated last week, “Netanyahu, we’re all behind you, march on,” he omitted the most important detail from his recommendation – that Netanyahu is standing on the edge of the abyss.