Ever since Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced last Thursday that he was indicting Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the Prime Minister has been blundering about in the political arena. The longest serving Israeli premier in history has been trying to convince the public that he is the sole saviour of the country, so they must continue to support him.
Following the indictment, he complained that he was a victim of a witch hunt and claimed that we were all witnessing a "political coup" attempt. In a televised speech he begged Israelis to trust him and believe that he was dedicated to the protection of the state of Israel.
"I gave my life to this state," said Netanyahu. "I fought for it, I was wounded for it. I have to say this is a very hard day." People must be blind not to see that something wrong is going on, he added. "This is a political coup." He went as far as to say that the investigators need to be investigated. "They didn't want the truth. They were after me personally."
The decision to indict a sitting Prime Minister for fraud and breach of trust is unprecedented, even in Israel. Hence, Netanyahu knows that he is likely to remain in his position, for now. He has conceded the other four ministries that he has been holding — Foreign Affairs, Economy, Health and Regional Cooperation — and started to concentrate on his main role as PM, which is the only one that might keep him out of prison.
His efforts started within his own party as he sought to get Likud members behind him. This time, though, he is facing a call from one of the acknowledged strong contenders for his position, Gideon Sa'ar, who has insisted on there being a leadership election. Although Netanyahu rejected this initially, after a meeting with the head of the Likud's Central Committee on Sunday night, he was obliged to announce his agreement to holding a primary.
According to Israel Hayom, Netanyahu's attempts to remain as Prime Minister will ensure that the country goes for a third General Election within a year. It insisted that he is plunging Israel deeper into political chaos.
The Israeli leader is also seeking immunity from prosecution. This is bound to fail because many Members of the Knesset have already pledged to reject such a request, which has to be filed within 30 days to the parliament's House Committee, which has not been formed yet since April's General Election.
On Monday evening, the Attorney General decided that Netanyahu could remain as caretaker Prime Minister despite his indictment because there is no legal precedent for this scenario. However, this is unlikely to provide a new opportunity for Netanyahu because, according to Israeli journalist Baruch Yedid, other Likud members have started to pull the carpet from under him in cooperation with the secular right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu and the left-wing Blue and White.
Yedid told me that there are several forces from different Israeli parties and within Likud itself which are currently working to end Netanyahu's political life. "Aside from Sa'ar, there is a secret alliance inside the Likud working to oust Netanyahu even if he wins the primary," Yedid explained.
Well known Haaretz commentator Gideon Levy pointed out that despite all that the US has done to try to save Netanyahu —recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising Israeli sovereignty of the Syrian Golan Heights and claiming that Israeli settlements are not inconsistent with international law — it has failed to do so.
In the event that he decides to cancel the Likud primary, the party has an alternative plan in place. "If Netanyahu prevents primaries for technical reasons, he shouldn't be surprised if someone [else] in Likud suddenly obtains 61 signatures," one unnamed senior Likud minister told Channel 12, according to the Times of Israel. That person would get the mandate from the President of Israel to form a government.
In what looks decidedly like his political death throes, reported Israel Hayom, Netanyahu has said: "We attacked Gaza two weeks ago and we attacked Syria one week ago. There are powers trying to destroy us. They are preparing to launch precision rockets towards us from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza and we must fight them. I am the only one in this world who is fighting them in the life or death war."
This sounds like a desperate man who knows that all the signs point to his political career hitting the buffers. Baruch Yedid is convinced of it. Secret information from sources inside the Knesset, he said, means that, "One way or another, Netanyahu is going to end up in prison." I for one hope that he's right.
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