Netanyahu under immense legal pressure - but don't expect his resignation (yet)

Police intend to recommend indictment of PM in at least two corruption cases


The increasing legal pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not expected to force his resignation any time in the near future.

The decision by his former chief of staff to become a witness for the state and the announcement by the police that they intend to recommend his indictment in at least two corruption cases were dismissed last Friday by the prime minister as “background noise”. Meanwhile, his cabinet colleagues are not about to demand he step down – at least for the time being.  

Ari Harow, who worked for the prime minister in various positions over the last decade as his chief of staff and, among other roles, was in charge of maintaining Mr Netanyahu’s relations with overseas donors, signed the state witness agreement on Friday.

Mr Harow was facing an indictment of his own over allegations of fraud in the sale of his own consultancy company. Under the terms of the agreement, Mr Harow will not serve prison time, instead getting a suspended sentence and a fine. He has assisted police in the investigations into allegations of expensive gifts Mr Netanyahu and his wife received over years from wealthy businessmen, and the prime minister’s dealings with Israeli media tycoon Arnon Mozes.

On Thursday, the police requested a gag order from the court over details pertaining to the two investigations. In the request, they specified the charges being investigated related to “bribery, fraud and breach of trust”. According to various reports in the Israeli media, police investigators have already decided to recommend the Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblitt indict the prime minister in both cases.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Netanyahu posted a short video on his Facebook page saying: “I want to say to all Israel’s citizens: I’m not interested in all the background noise. I’m continuing to work for you.”

As things stand now, the prime minister can continue doing so for quite a while. The police have yet to wrap up the investigations, and even when they do so, the attorney-general is expected to take months to review the evidence before reaching his own conclusion.

Assuming he goes along with the police recommendation, Mr Netanyahu will still have the right to a hearing before it reaches court. Most legal experts expect this process to take at least another year. Even after being indicted, Israeli law allows the prime minister to remain in office until a conviction.

Nine years ago, former prime minister Ehud Olmert was in a similar position while police were investigating allegations of bribery against him. He was eventually forced to resign after an American businessman gave evidence of his having bribed Mr Olmert: the revelation prompted his coalition partner, then Labour leader and defence minister Ehud Barak, to threaten to leave the government if he did not resign. None of the party leaders in Mr Netanyahu’s current coalition have indicated that they plan to do the same. Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday that “Israel needs stability and we are supporting this national government and are committed to it continuing functioning”. Likud ministers have also expressed their complete support for the prime minister.

At this point, none of the coalition partners, all of whom control key ministries, have an interest in rocking the boat and endangering the government. A number of the Likud ministers who came out in support harbour their own prime ministerial ambitions, but the party’s rank and file are still largely loyal to Mr Netanyahu and none of them want to be seen as hastening his departure. As dire as the prime minister’s legal predicament seems, he can be relatively confident of seeing out his current term.

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