Wearing heavy makeup, with a forced smile and puffy eyes (perhaps from lack of sleep) but without the familiar smugness, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised his Facebook followers on Friday that despite the “background noise,” he continues to work on behalf of Israelis. His usual sign-off, “there will be nothing, because there is nothing,” was missing. He, and everyone else, knows this “background noise” will remain until the closing bell tolls. He faces a long, painful demise, resembling that of his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. The thought that he might also follow Olmert into court, and perhaps beyond, is stomach-turning.
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The gravity of his legal situation, which became clearer after the signing of the state’s witness deal with Ari Harow, his right hand and confidant over the last decade, challenges three assumptions that were prevalent in the political sphere: 1. Netanyahu is clever. He learns from the experience of others; he saw Olmert lose everything due to his greed. 2. Netanyahu is a coward. He was questioned and almost prosecuted after his first term in office and should have been cautious after being burnt once. That trauma was expected to remove any thought of wrongdoing from his mind. 3. Netanyahu is not corrupt. He is a hedonist, a pathological miser (like his wife but less so) and likes living at the expense of others, but he knows the limits.
Both cases in which he is implicated, Case 1000 which involves alleged gifts and perks from one tycoon or more and Case 2000, involving talks with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes regarding the “weakening” of Israel Hayom in exchange for improving his coverage in Mozes-associated media, show the exact opposite of these assumptions.
He learned nothing from the fall of his predecessor. He behaved foolishly and carelessly while losing all restraints, morality and his grip on things. The wisdom is still there, but his flawed personality and long years in power, his sense of entitlement, his confidence that he would remain prime minister as long as he wanted to, led him on a twisted path that could lead to his political demise.
The excitement that gripped the political world over the weekend, as if an indictment was lurking around the corner and that Netanyahu was about to tender his resignation, is premature. The mills of law enforcement grind slower than those of the courts. The process is long and it’s possible that elections will be held at the end of 2018 or later, before charges are filed.
As far as is known, and according to what he tells his interlocutors, Netanyahu has no intention of resigning, even if indicted. It’s unclear whether the decision will be his to make. Talk of an alternative government is irrelevant. His resignation any time from November will lead to the fall of the government and to elections early in 2018, three years after the last one.
It will take time for the police to submit their recommendations, which will presumably be accompanied by leaks from the investigation. Since the investigation began, and particularly since it was officially announced last week that the prime minister is suspected of bribery and that the person who knows his secrets will testify against him, Netanyahu has been a lame duck. As the process continues his limp will get worse. His authority over cabinet and Knesset members will erode. His every move, diplomatic, political or in defense matters, will be judged in the light of his legal situation. An assumption of innocence is his legal right but in the media he’ll have to prove that any move he makes is not dictated by non-pertinent considerations.
For example, let’s consider debates over the nation-state bill, which are scheduled to take place at the end of October. If Netanyahu, who declared his intention of finalizing this legislation in the next Knesset session, creates a crisis with his coalition partner Kulanu, which disputes some of the bill’s clauses, this may serve as a pretext for calling early elections.
It is unclear what gains could be made from such a move. Some people argue that if he wins the confidence of the public again and forms a government before an indictment is filed, state prosecutors will be more cautious with respect to a government still in its early days, compared to one that is winding down. Others believe that this won’t change a thing, and that his fate is sealed, with nothing there to stop the train hurtling toward him.