Binyamin Netanyahu: running out of time

Inside and outside Likud, rivals are already looking to the post-Netanyahu era

Following a police recommendation that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (left) be charged with bribery, attorney general Avichai Mandelblit (right) must now decide whether to file charges. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

Following a police recommendation that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (left) be charged with bribery, attorney general Avichai Mandelblit (right) must now decide whether to file charges. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

 

Time is running out for Binyamin Netanyahu. The news that Israeli police have recommended that the prime minister be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust may not on its own precipitate his departure – or at least not immediately – but it’s clear that, after 12 years in power, the Netanyahu era is entering its final stages.

The allegations against him, arising from two investigations, are extremely serious. In the first, Netanyahu is accused of doing favours for a Hollywood producer and an Australian businessman in exchange for gifts worth about €230,000. The second case centres on what police say was an illicit deal between Netanyahu and a newspaper publisher that involved the prime minister using his influence to curtail the growth of a rival media outlet. Netanyahu responded to the police recommendation with characteristic force, calling the allegations “biased, extreme, full of holes” and vowing to remain in office.

A recent poll by an Israeli television channel found that 60 per cent of Israelis thought Netanyahu should resign if police recommended charges

His fate now rests with attorney general Avichai Mendelblit, a former military prosecutor who was considered a Netanyahu loyalist but has also marked out his indepedence as the government’s legal officer. Mendelblit must decide whether to file charges. If he does, Netanyahu’s attempt to frame his troubles as the result of a left-wing plot to oust him from power will look even shakier than it currently does.

A formal indictment, which would be the first against a sitting Israeli prime minister, would also put pressure on his coalition partners. They may have no desire for an early election, but the alternative – having to defend a prime minister indicted on bribery charges – would be far less palatable. A recent poll by an Israeli television channel found that 60 per cent of Israelis thought Netanyahu should resign if police recommended charges.

It’s clear that the prime minister hopes to ride this out. The attorney general’s review of the case will buy him a few months. But even if he limps on, he will not recover. Inside and outside the ruling Likud party, rivals are already preparing for the post-Netanyahu era.

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