February 26, 2020

A Different Way Forward for Netanyahu

“If the Channel 13 News poll aired Nov. 10 is anything to go by, the balance of power between Israel’s liberal and conservative voting blocs would remain largely unchanged from the two elections this year if a third round of balloting was held in early 2020. The equivalent of 57 Knesset seats for the center-left parties and 54 for the right-wing, ultra-Orthodox parties, as suggested in the poll results, would leave the deciding votes in the hands of Yisrael Beitenu Chair Avigdor Liberman, whose party would get nine seats in the 120-member legislature — one more than in the September elections. Nonetheless, the poll does not reflect the impact of possible corruption indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It stands to reason that the status of an indicted prime minister — if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit does, indeed, decide in the coming weeks to indict him — would not improve the chances of Netanyahu’s Likud party at the ballot box.

Having failed in strenuous efforts to cull the support of a 61-seat Knesset majority to advance proposed legislation granting him immunity from prosecution, Netanyahu’s last resort in a bid to avoid facing a courtroom would be requesting a pardon from President Reuven Rivlin, pending the recommendation of the attorney general. A knowledgeable source close to the senior echelons of the state prosecutor’s office suggested this week in a conversation with Al-Monitor not to attach much credibility to the determined denials of such a possibility emanating from the prime minister’s office.

Proponents of the pardon option point to the precedent set by the 1986 pardon of the Shin Bet security agents, who executed two terrorists that had hijacked bus 300 in 1984. Casting the blame on Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak Mordechai, they misled a commission. Also, under the deal between then-Attorney General Yosef Harish and President Chaim Herzog, head of the Shin Bet Avraham Shalom stepped down. Other agents were granted a pardon and were saved a trial after admitting guilt and assuming responsibility for their actions. The fact that leading Israeli attorney Ram Caspi, who represented the Shin Bet agents at the time, is a member of Netanyahu’s defense team, lends credence to reports of contacts underway over a similar deal.”

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