Analysis |

Netanyahu’s Best-case Scenario Is a Fourth Election Round. And Then a Fifth

The PM did his best to avoid having to seek parliamentary immunity, but knowing a trial is inevitable, he’s playing for time

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a press conference regarding his request for immunity from prosecution, Jerusalem, January 1, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a press conference regarding his request for immunity from prosecution, Jerusalem, January 1, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Like a common criminal, Benjamin Netanyahu stood before the nation Wednesday evening and lowered the bar of national shame to new levels. True, the prime minister has yet to be convicted of anything. But his behavior, his ways, his language and his statements are those of a criminal.

His string of lies, which were exposed again under the spotlights, are of the kind that is expected from a serial criminal, not a leader.

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Netanyahu's whole purpose this past year, in which he led Israel into the worst political and constitutional crisis in its history, with the help of his collaborators in Likud and the right-wing bloc, was to forestall the moment he would have to seek immunity. But he failed time after time, politically and electorally.

At the helm of the State of Israel stands not just a prime minister indicted with bribery and fraud, but a petty politician hiding behind an immunity clause that has no connection whatsoever to the alleged crimes and serious accusations against him.

He arrogantly and falsely accused his rival, Benny Gantz, of stealing public funds. He completely distorted what President Reuven Rivlin had said in the past about the importance of parliamentary immunity. And without an ounce of shame, he once again accused law enforcement – whose leaders he himself had carefully chosen – of “framing” him and suborning and extorting state witnesse.

Netanyahu, the professional procrastinator, managed to buy some time on Wednesday night. The alternative – having the indictments filed and a trial opened in the next few months – was not an option for him. The question is, how much time? Theoretically, until a new Knesset is sworn in and a new House Committee convenes to hear his request (which it will most likely reject).

For him, the best-case scenario would be a fourth round of elections, and then a fifth, and so on. Even if the right-wing, religious bloc gets 61 seats, it’s doubtful that all of them would support his immunity request. And even if they do, the High Court of Justice is likely to overturn that decision, as it has done in the past in less serious cases. Netanyahu knows that all the roads lead to trial, but as noted, he’s playing for time.

If the current, lame-duck Knesset can establish a House Committee in the next few weeks as Kahol Lavan and Yisrael Beiteinu are demanding, then the immunity request could be debated and rejected before the March election. But as long as the Knesset speaker is Yuli Edelstein, a Likud man whose courage is not his strong point, the process is likely to be delayed until it simply fizzles out.

Despite his haughty remarks, the Netanyahu we saw Wednesday night is terrified. The walls are closing in on him. For a moment, he tried some humor, saying with a forced and embarrassing chuckle that he was ironically accused of receiving “favorable coverage” in the media. But he conveyed neither self-confidence nor humor. He was like a fearful man passing through a graveyard on a gloomy night, trying to stay calm by whistling a happy tune.

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