Analysis

How Netanyahu Plans to Stay in Power and Beat Criminal Charges

Netanyahu is determined to be reelected for fifth term. If reelected, he might try to force his future partners to pass legislation prohibiting the prosecution of a sitting prime minister

A protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in July, 2018.
Emil Salman

This time it’s no cliché, but a real warning: The 2019 election will be the most important since Israel’s founding, 70 years ago.

Israel is going to elections when the candidate with the best chance to form the next government is a man whom the police and the state prosecution want to see charged with at least two counts of bribery. It’s doubtful if there’s a precedent for this in any Western democracy.

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This man is more determined than ever to be reelected to a fifth term. For him, to be prime minister when the attorney general decides on whether to indict him is to be or not to be, a matter of life and death.

It’s crucial to come to the hearing that will determine his fate as a newly reelected prime minister. The people voted their confidence in me knowing the claims and suspicions against me, he’ll argue, and in the end, the people are the sovereign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, during a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, November, 2018.
Emil Salman

On the strength of this he will try, if reelected, to force his future coalition partners to agree to pass some version of the “French law” prohibiting the prosecution of a sitting prime minister. It sounds insane but that’s the plan; there is no other.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the most to lose in the general election scheduled for April 9. This will determine his conduct during the hundred or so days until the balloting. Without morals and without restraint, without law or judge. On Wednesday, before the Knesset voted to dissolve itself, we got a sampling.

“In these elections there will be an effort by the left to effect a change in government by mobilizing the media and other structures,” he told local council heads of West Bank settlements. “They are fully mobilized. This is a war over our home.”

“Other structures” means the police, who have already completed their work, but the claim that the police were hostile and biased, making its findings tainted, will serve him.

And of course, there’s the prosecution. He won’t come out against it or against Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. That would be foolish; his fate is in their hands. For the real dirty work he has coalition whip David Amsalem and his ilk.

And the “home” he was referring to isn’t what you think; it’s the official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.

It’s the not-so-happy home of Bibi and Sara — a suspect and defendant in her own right — along with their son Yair, the online bully. They’ve lived there for nearly a decade. It’s practically registered to them. The possibility that they might be evicted by the voters is perceived by them as a conspiracy to commit a crime. If “Gideon Sa’ar” and the attempted putsch was the plot of the century, democracy and elections are the plot of the millennium.

Netanyahu is beginning his journey to the polls weaker and more vulnerable than he was a few months ago. According to an Israel News Company poll, 52 percent of the public doesn’t want him to return to the Prime Minister’s Office, compared to 34 percent who do. Until recently those numbers were reversed, in his favor.

Some 62 percent of respondents said Netanyahu should resign if indicted. That statistic already penetrates deep into his right-wing base, including his own Likud party.