Even after several elections in the span of a year, Israel remained in utter confusion on Monday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed in Jerusalem. In parallel, the beleaguered country’s lawmakers were chewing over his political fate not the least because his Likud party hasn’t won a distinct majority.
Small wonder that the challenge that he faces has been described as “double-pronged” ~ the critical talks on his political future are being held in parallel to his appearance in a Jerusalem courtroom. In a word, the Prime Minister’s political future is as uncertain as the legal fallout. The critical negotiations on his political future are being held in the aftermath of the inconclusive election in March. In the net, from the perspective of clarity, the uncertainty is fairly overwhelming in Israel today. The ferment in the Middle East might, therefore, persist for some time yet.
The President, Reuven Rivlin, held key consultations at his residence with parliamentarians on how to form a government that could help save or end Netanyahu’s career. At stake is both the legal and political fate of the country’s longest-serving leader. Hence perhaps the analogy with the cinema.
“There isn’t a film-maker in the world who will agree to buy a screenplay with that kind of overt symbolism,” is the perception of the columnist, Ben Caspit. “The fact that the two formative events are going to happen simultaneously on a split-screen is unbelievable. I do know that whoever planned this has a very good sense of humour and possesses a real flair for drama.”
Real life, we are inclined to add, can be wholly different not the least because of the chronic ferment in the Middle East. Netanyahu, the first serving Israeli leader to go on trial, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, alleging he is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt. He is alleged to have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury gifts from billionaire friends and traded favours with Israeli media and telecom moguls for favourable news coverage.
The Prime Minister sat in court with his arms crossed as the lead prosecutor, Liat Ben-Ari, read out the charges against him, accusing him of being involved in “a serious case of government corruption”. She added: “The relationship between Netanyahu and the other defendants became currency, something that could be traded.
The currency could distort a public servant’s judgment.” In televised remarks at the end of the day, Netanyahu said the trial was an “abuse of power” by the state prosecutor’s office. “This is what a coup attempt looks like.” Unlike one of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert, who stepped down after it appeared he would be indicted, Netanyahu has refused to relinquish power.
As Israeli law does not require Prime Ministers to resign while under indictment, Netanyahu will want to keep hold of his position throughout what could be a years-long trial. He faces more than a decade in prison if convicted. Israel’s spring is fogbound.