Editorial

Israel’s Attorney General Must Decide on Netanyahu Before the Next Election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 20, 2019.
אוהד צויגנברג

The mandate given to Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz to form a government expired at midnight, and the chances that Israel is facing a third general election within a year have just increased.

According to the law, after the mandate is returned to the president, the Knesset is allowed to seek a third candidate who might form a government. Although there’s a theoretical possibility that 61 Knesset members will be found within 21 days to support such a candidate and submit his name to the president, chances are that what was beyond Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz over the past two months will be beyond any other candidate.

Israel finds itself in a political deadlock not only due to its inability to decide ideologically between right and left. The deadlock also reflects the Gordian knot that binds politics to Netanyahu’s legal status, affecting the option of voting for him or forming a governing coalition with him. In the two elections this year, voters went to the polls under a cloud of uncertainty. The public was unsure whether the right’s candidate for prime minister was about to face an indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

This is an intolerable situation, and the political system responded accordingly, unable to resign itself to the absurdity in which a cloud of uncertainty hovers over a candidate. The solution has an address; Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is having a hard time reaching a decision. The responsibility on his shoulders is indeed great, but he must decide and stop miring the country in uncertainty.

Enough time has elapsed for making a decision. The lavish-gifts case (Case 1000) and the Yedioth Ahronoth news for favors case (Case 2000) were opened in mid-2016, becoming criminal investigations in January 2017. The Bezeq-Walla news for favors case (Case 4000) was opened at the end of 2017.

For the sake of comparison, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein and State Prosecutor Edna Arbel needed only three months for ruling on the Bar-On-Hebron affair in which an offer to replace the attorney general was allegedly made in exchange for closing a case against Netanyahu’s wife. The charges against Ehud Olmert in the cash-filled-envelopes case were filed by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz one year after the investigation was launched; in the case against former Finance Minister Abraham Hirschson, this number was 15 months.

A third election isn’t the worst alternative among everything that could have happened if Netanyahu had formed a government. But a third election must be held only after Mendelblit announces his decision on the cases against Netanyahu. Mendelblit must decide before the next election.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.