Can Netanyahu Really Call Off His Corruption Trial?

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Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, May 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, May 2020.Credit: Amit Shabi

I started hearing these ideas a few months ago from people who once worked closely with Benjamin Netanyahu. At first they sounded like more of the delusional notions prevalent these stressful days, or merely another rung in Netanyahu’s ascent to super-demon level.

“You’ll see,” a former close confidant told me. “I know him too well. He’ll call off his trial.”

How will that happen? I asked.

“I’m no jurist,” he said. “But you’ll see it’ll happen.”

After that I heard this from jurists generally equipped with good sense and a sturdy connection to reality.

Netanyahu's behavior since the indictments were submitted indicates more than anything that he aims to cancel his corruption trial. However, the systematic mudslinging at Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and senior prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari – despicable and aggressive as it may be – won’t even buy him chewing gum at the acquittals corner store.

In a normal country, a first-rate expert in the field told me, there’s no such animal. But Israel isn’t a normal country. So here are the ways – all of them insane and delusional in a properly run country – Netanyahu might try to stop his trial.

1. A “French law” Balfour Street style. According to what Israelis call the “French law,” you wouldn't be able to scrutinize a sitting prime minister. But with local seasoning it can be adjusted to ban the event taking place at the Jerusalem District Court.

Such a distorted version can be passed if a much more amenable Knesset than the current one is formed, with coalition partners like far-rightist Bezalel Smotrich, who tried already last year to amend the immunity law. And of course Netanyahu has new friends like Mansour Abbas of the Joint List of Arab parties.

Petitions to the High Court of Justice? The new law would be enacted as a Basic Law, so the court wouldn’t be able to intervene, as it has never revoked a Basic Law.

2. A request for a stay of proceedings. Such a request would be addressed to the attorney general. Obviously this wouldn’t happen in the Mendelblit era; it wouldn’t be granted.

But what will happen after him? Sensitive appointments like of  attorney general interest Netanyahu much more than the state budget. A person more to the family’s taste might say yes. A stay of proceedings means the case is dead, a number of legal experts said.

3. Change the evidence laws or basic criminal law. Netanyahu will show how the investigation against him was tainted and describe the improper way the evidence was collected. A change in the evidence laws can undermine the witnesses who did plea deals and make the public believe the story about the illegality of the evidence. Such a move would also have repercussions on trials already in progress.

Meanwhile, basic criminal law can be changed by stipulating that media coverage isn’t bribery, which could revoke the charge or lead to an acquittal.

4. Ask the Knesset for immunity. Netanyahu claims that he’s entitled to immunity from prosecution and that due to a procedural flaw after he requested immunity from the Knesset, he was denied a fair hearing. A request for immunity may be made after the attorney general announces his intention to indict. This has already been done.

Netanyahu withdrew his immunity request and the indictment was submitted, so the train left the station. But another important appointment is imminent – Knesset legal adviser. An adviser more favorable to Netanyahu could let him submit another request. The immunity law could also be amended to fit Netanyahu’s needs, allowing him to submit the request again.

Petitions to the High Court of Justice? For that we have the law overriding the High Court. Thus, with the right bunch of new gatekeepers, the gates are totally open.

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