Editorial

Laws for the War on Corruption

Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to speak at an event in Jerusalem, April 23, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The lost political year that Israelis have endured as a result of the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and three successive elections call for solutions that will minimize the likelihood of this ever happening again.

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Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, was the first political party to announce, in light of the results of this week’s election, that it will sponsor legislation limiting a prime minister to two terms in office and barring any Knesset member who has been indicted from serving as prime minister. These laws would not apply retroactively, but would be in force as of the next general election. If they pass with the support of 62 Knesset members – that is, all legislators from Kahol Lavan, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu – Netanyahu won’t be able to run in the next election as a candidate for prime minister, if his trial is still under way at the time of the election.

Had these laws been in effect during the 2010s, when Netanyahu himself supported them, Israelis would have been spared the fierce debate over whether a person who has been charged with bribery can serve as prime minister, and they also would not have had to face three general elections in the space of a year. Moreover, such legislation would have kept the issue from winding up in the High Court of Justice. It’s even conceivable that it would have saved Netanyahu from indictment for serious offenses, since the alleged crimes were born of his desire to stay in power.

The charges at the heart of Case 4000, the most serious of the three, stem from events that took place in the term that began in 2015, Netanyahu’s third consecutive term as prime minister and his fourth overall. As the years passed, Netanyahu lost his caution, crossed red lines and worked against the public interest. This behavior stemmed directly from his excessively long tenure in the Prime Minister’s Office and from the fact that his political survival became his top priority, ahead of any other goal.

Terms limits would shift the focus in the work of the prime minister from political survival, which is often achieved through unacceptable means while riding roughshod over important public interests, to effective performance. Netanyahu himself once supported a two-term limit for the prime minister, and also believed that a prime minister who had been indicted could not remain in office, because “there is the fear, and I have to say it is real and not without basis, that he will make decisions based on his personal interest in political survival and not based on the national interest.” Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz’s first test will be to ensure that this happens.

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