With a police verdict looming, Netanyahu prepares to fight calls for his head

The Israeli prime minister is busy shoring up support ahead of inevitable calls for his resignation


With a police recommendation to indict him now expected any day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been busy shoring up support in his coalition to resist the inevitable calls for his resignation.

The cracks are beginning to show on the streets. Last Saturday night, another demonstration was held in Jerusalem against corruption and in support of the legal establishment — but, for the first time, by the right-wing, not the left.

After a year-long process in which police questioned the prime minister seven times, the investigation into the gifts received by Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara from wealthy businessmen is wrapping up. Police sources say their verdict is these gifts were illegal. Mr Netanyahu maintains he was allowed to receive gifts “from close friends”.

“There will be recommendations. So what?” Mr Netanyahu told supporters at a Likud rally last week, effectively confirming that a police decision is imminent.

“Here’s a fact that you probably don’t know: most of the police recommendations end with nothing.”

A police recommendation is not the end of the story. It is Avichai Mandelblitt, the attorney general, who will decide whether to press charges, and that is not expected for a while.

For now the prime minister, who tried and failed to pass a law that would have prevented the police from announcing the result of its investigations, is more worried about the political implications. Even though few people doubt a recommendation to indict is imminent, the actual details remain unknown and their severity could determine the political outcome.

Do the police believe Mr Netanyahu should be charged with receiving illegal gifts, a relatively lesser offence? Or will they point to favours allegedly carried out in exchange for those gifts as grounds for the much more serious charge of receiving bribes?

The cracks are also beginning to show in his cabinet. On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu met his finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, to gauge his support.

While Mr Kahlon assured him that he intends to remain in the coalition despite the police recommendations, other members of his centrist Kulanu party are less confident and are expected to call for a withdrawal.

The coalition currently has a majority of five MKs in the Knesset. Kulanu brings ten members to the table.

Other parties in the coalition have not hinted at plans to jump ship in the near future but Mr Netanyahu is worried about rumblings from the ideological right-wing. He was rattled by a spate of columns from nationalist pundits in recent weeks calling for a “cleaning of the stables” and, while Saturday night’s Jerusalem demonstration was sparsely attended, he is concerned about the undercurrent.

He met a group of prominent rabbis from the national religious and settler communities on Tuesday to appeal for their support. A day later, his government announced 40 million shekels [£8.6 million] in new settlement funding, although any connection to the meeting  was denied.

The funds were a result of standard end-of-year accounting and had “not come up in the meeting with the rabbis”, Mr Netanyahu’s office said.

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