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Middle East

Are we seeing the beginning of the end for Netanyahu?

media Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to police allegations of bribery on Israeli television, 13 February 2018. Reuters/Israeli Pool

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back on Wednesday after police said he should be charged for bribery. Even if his position at the head of a coalition government is secure for now, many observers believe it’s the beginning of the end for the four-time prime minister.

After questing Netanyahu on multiple questionings over the past year, Israeli police late Tuesday recommended that judges to indict him on charges of bribery.

Netanyahu is accused of taking gifts from businessmen and of seeking a deal with a newspaper publisher to sway media coverage in his favour.

But the Israeli PM hit back in a televised address on Tuesday and again to government officials on Wednesday, saying his government remained stable and that the police version was “full of holes.”

“The truth will come to light and nothing will come of this,” Netanyahu affirmed.

The decision to pursue formal charges rests with Israel’s Attorney General, who could take weeks or months before deciding what to do.

“It will take time, because the attorney general works very slowly, and he was appointed by Netanyahu,” says Orit Galili-Zucker, a former communication advisor to Netanyahu who believes the prime minister’s clock is ticking.

“I think that in the end, and I think Netanyahu also know this, he will end up going to court or maybe even to jail.”

Coalition secure for now

Netanyahu says he will stay on at the head of a coalition government that includes his own right-wing Likud party and four centrist and far-right parties.

“Predicting the future is not an easy task, especially in Israel, but it definitely looks quite solid for the time being,” says Abraham Diskin, emeritus professor of political science with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“The only party that can gain from early elections is the extreme right-wing Jewish Home party, but people from the Jewish Home already expressed their memory of 1992, when they decided to defect and it brought about, from their point of view, a left-wing government headed by Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo Agreements,” Diskin notes.

“And the other parties don’t really have a political or electoral incentive, and all the leaders expressed that they don’t think anything should be done before a formal indictment is on the table.”

Test of public opinion

If the political situation is stable for now, Netanyahu will certainly face public scrutiny.

“He will lose his legitimacy and his coalition because of the public opinion and the polls, and the social networks, it’s really a mountain of complaints against his behaviour,” says political commentator Daniel Ben Simon, a former Labor and independent MP.

“This is, in my view,  is a loss of legitimacy. Without trust and legitimacy, he cannot stay in power.”

In the meantime, there appears to be no major shift across Netanyahu’s own support base.

“There are many Israelis who buy his version,” says Orit Galili-Zucker. “He has many supporters that believe he’s the only one that acts for Israeli security interests.”

Yet the PM’s former advisor believes that Netanyahu will find he has less and less room to manoeuvre.

“He’s very clever, but as I see it as a political analyst and a political advisor who worked with Netanyahu and knows him, I think his career will be ended with this huge stain.”


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