No Extension for Netanyahu at the Expense of Justice

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Friday was the final deadline that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit gave Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers for scheduling the prime minister’s pre-indictment hearing. The meeting is supposed to be held by July 10; only after that can Mendelblit decide whether to indict Netanyahu in the corruption cases against him. Two weeks ago, Mendelblit told the lawyers – and by extension the public – that they must set a date for the hearing as soon as possible, and that if they do not, this could be interpreted as forfeiting their client’s right to a hearing. In this case an indictment based on the draft indictment would be issued.

Friday came and went, and Netanyahu’s lawyers did not collect the evidentiary material, nor did they arrange a date for the hearing. Instead, they asked that the hearing be postponed by a few months (during which the state comptroller’s exemptions committee is expected to make a decision on the funding of Netanyahu’s defense). On paper, their foot-dragging has nothing to do with the accusations against Netanyahu and everything to do with the fact that their client hasn’t yet paid their fees. In fact, everyone knows why Netanyahu is playing for time.

>> Read more: Netanyahu to ask president for two-week extension to form next government ■ Mendelblit's vital warning | Editorial

On Saturday night it was reported that Mendelblit was expected to tell Netanyahu’s lawyers that he was adamant about holding the hearing as soon as possible but would agree to postpone it from July to September, and would consider doing so after all the evidence of the investigation was collected. This move does not jibe with what he told them two weeks ago, when he wrote, in a manner that leaves no room for interpretation, “The payment issue is not under our purview and does not warrant any delay in submitting the main body of evidence to the prime minister or his representatives, and in any event it cannot affect the date of the hearing.”

The 28 days Netanyahu has to form a government after the April 9 election end on Wednesday. He is expected to ask the president for a two-week extension. Mendelblit’s willingness to accede to the request from Netanyahu’s lawyers ignored the obvious: Any delay will serve Netanyahu’s efforts to barter cabinet positions for supporting legislation that would block his prosecution.

If Mendelblit postpones his decision on an indictment, Netanyahu will use any additional time to tailor legislation to his needs and push it through the Knesset as soon as he forms a government.

Each additional day that Mendelblit delays the hearing will be used by Netanyahu and his people to dig a legislative tunnel to escape the law. Any intelligent person, and certainly the attorney general, can see that this is the issue at stake. Netanyahu and his partners must not be permitted to exploit their power, their authority and the public trust to bend the law in the service of the criminal suspect in the prime minister’s residence.