Likud is poised to win big in the upcoming Israeli elections and Netanyahu to remain prime minister, but indictment clouds are rapidly gathering.
Israeli media today is reporting that new polls are showing PM Netanyahu’s Likud party slightly increasing its dominance from around 30 seats in previous polls to around 33. The new “Israel Resilience” party formed by ex-IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General (retired) Benjamin Gantz, seems to be cannibalizing seats from other center-left parties such as Labor and Yesh Atid, rather than diminishing Likud’s position in the polls. The emerging picture shows a virtual slam dunk likelihood for new center-right or right-religious coalitions both led by Mr. Netanyahu, with a virtual impossibility of a center-left coalition headed by either Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) or Benjamin Gantz. A possible combined center-left party, jointly led by Gantz and Lapid does not yield any increase in terms of seats in the Knesset as compared to them running separately.
However, just as the campaign for the April 9th elections is heating up and when the general outline of the results is becoming clear, it is also becoming clear that the multi-year project by Netanyahu’s enemies to indict him on corruption charges is bearing fruit. Today, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejected an appeal by Netanyahu’s legal team to delay the conclusions in his case until after the election. In a letter to Netanyahu’s lawyers, Mr. Mandelbilt has agreed to meet with them next week, but summarily rejected their request for a delay in his decision whether to proceed with indictments in the various charges. He explained that the cases had begun prior to the call for a snap election in April and would proceed apace like any other legal proceeding before him. This opens the door to the possibility that Mr. Netanyahu will be indicted on one or more criminal charges while serving as Prime Minister and the head of Israel’s largest political party, one that is almost guaranteed to win the upcoming election. This will be an unprecedented situation in Israel’s more than seven decade history and will raise constitutional questions whether a politician indicted of criminal wrongdoing can serve in the Knesset, or in government, or run for elected office until his or her case is adjudicated, something that (including appeals) may take many years. While Netanyahu’s many opponents fervently wish that he step aside, doing so would deprive the Israeli public from their clear choice of a leader, subverting the democratic process. This point was clearly made by Jewish American legal scholar Professor Alan Dershowitz in a recent op-ed.