Opinion

Netanyahu's Politics of Avoiding Indictment

His possible motive for early elections seems far-fetched but is not to be ruled out: demands being made by U.S. President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP

If it turns out that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is indeed seriously considering, or has already seriously considered, advancing elections, there could be three reasons for it.

The first has already emerged from his remarks: Netanyahu, given the escalating investigations against him, is seeking to ward off the blow and extort the coalition parties into not dissolving the government, even if he is indicted. If that’s the motive, one can assume there won’t be early elections. The coalition parties are apparently more afraid of elections than of the moral and ethical stain from their behavior, and Netanyahu’s exercise in extortion will leave them firmly ensconced in his government.

The second reason that could be moving Netanyahu toward early elections is the hope that a renewal of his mandate by masses of voters – resulting perhaps in an even higher number of Knesset seats than he has now – will deter the law enforcement agencies and attorney general from serving indictments against him. If the move also succeeds in diverting the public’s attention from the corruption allegations to election issues, that would be a nice bonus. Netanyahu certainly enjoys seeing his coalition members twisting in their seats.

The idea that the current farce is aimed merely at scaring the attorney general and delaying the evil decree is somewhat of a stretch. It must be recalled, however, that Netanyahu dissolved his previous government for ridiculous reasons and won that gamble. But even if he wins two or three more seats, which will naturally come at the expense of his coalition partners, it’s hard to believe his legal situation and the investigations against him would change substantially enough to justify such a risk.

So long as senior police officials and the attorney general have not, God forbid, become servants of a criminal regime, we can and must hope that they will do their jobs faithfully. Most of all, it is hoped that in contrast to Netanyahu’s dangerous tones before he came back to Israel last week, he will leave the battle for his innocence to the legal, democratic arena, and won’t be dragged into trying to sic his hundreds of thousands of supporters on the police.

Netanyahu’s third possible motive for early elections, despite his current strong position, seems rather far-fetched, although perhaps this is what’s driving developments: demands being made by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Although Trump admires Netanyahu, he may have made a demand Netanyahu couldn’t refuse. The Saudis are pressing for Israel to start preparing itself for some kind of agreement with the Palestinians and Netanyahu – who understands, like the North Korean leader, that you don’t start up with Trump – fears that Habayit Hayehudi will bolt the government over planned concessions to the Palestinians. It’s better for him to hold elections now, when the right is still with him and not against him.

After the elections Netanyahu will invite Avi Gabbay, who heads a Labor Party floundering in the polls (and maybe even Tamar Zandberg of Meretz) to join his government instead of Habayit Hayehudi, which won’t agree to any territorial compromise. The basis for the new coalition will be perfect – a peace plan. And with it will come the desired coddling by the media while Yesh Atid dries up in the opposition. What’s wrong with that?

Netanyahu would be happy to continue at the helm of the right-wing camp. But if he has no choice, he will do what he must. What remains to be seen is whether Gabbay and the Labor Party will agree to play their roles in this farce and rescue the criminal suspect.