Analysis

Attorney General Fears Decision on Netanyahu Cases Near Election Will Be Deemed Meddling

Avichai Mendelblit faces a dilemma: The state prosecutor says voters deserve to know beforehand whether Netanyahu will be indicted, but Mendelblit worries such a decision would constitute intervention

File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit attend a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 1, 2015.
Dan Balilty/AP

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is again in a quandary. Although the moving up of the general election to April 9 wasn’t exactly a surprise, Mendelblit believes the Passover deadline he has set for deciding on whether to indict the prime minister for corruption – 10 days after the election – is problematic.

But to him, to announce a decision a few days before the vote is a nonstarter. Sources close to him say the latest dilemma is about whether announcing the decision two months before the election would mean intervening in the political process.

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In Mendelblit’s office, nobody is ready to commit to a date. State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan declared before October’s local elections that “the voting public deserves to know before the elections whether a council head is being indicted.” But Mendelblit is refusing to make a similar statement regarding the prime minister.

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On the contrary, he said Monday that it’s business as usual; this is “an orderly and professional work plan independent of political events.” This statement ignores reality, to put it mildly.

After reiterating in his speeches that the Netanyahu cases are in the “home stretch,” Mendelblit’s new mantra is that he and his team are “working around the clock.” In recent days he has dived into the files, even though he’s quite familiar with them.

On Tuesday he met in his office with deputies Raz Nizri and Amit Merari. Liat Ben-Ari, head of the prosecutors’ team handling the Netanyahu cases, doesn’t take part in these meetings.

What would be a reasonable time to announce a decision during an election period? A possible answer is the following. There is a Knesset election law stating that you can register a party to run up to 47 days before the vote.

Another option would be the precedent set in the local elections. The decision to shut the case against Ramat Gan’s mayor was made on July 29, three months before the balloting. The decisions to shut the cases against Moshe Leon, a candidate and now Jerusalem’s newly elected mayor, and the mayors of Dimona and Mevasseret Zion, were made two and a half months before the elections.

The mayor of the settlement of Immanuel was indicted on August 28, two months before the local elections. Decisions to close the cases against the mayors of Safed and Kiryat Shmona were also made two months before the vote. The case against the Har Adar council head was shut two weeks before the elections.

The attorney general’s dilemma explains his defensive stance; he might be charged with political bias if he announces his decision near the election or the primaries preceding them. Mendelblit should be reminded of what he said in the Knesset at the start of the month: “I will handle this professionally. I’m a professional, I’m not a political person, and I don’t intend to consider whether there is an election or not. That isn’t my job.”

The only question now is whether he can decide within a month. After being involved in the investigation for three years, including the cases’ smallest details, he certainly could do so sooner than that. Presumably, if he planned to close the cases, he’d be quick to tell us about it. It’s his duty to make a call and announce it – for the sake of Netanyahu, and above all for the people.