“Forget about the Trump peace initiative,” a senior Israeli political figure well versed in the details of the latest diplomatic moves told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity. “The problem is not about bridging gaps between us and the Palestinians,” he said. “The solution is well known and familiar to the Trump administration.” To push it forward, however, the real sticking point must be overcome. “That problem is called the Netanyahu government,” he remarked. “Sadly, there are no indications for now that the American president is willing to deal with it.”
Shortly after that conversation, Yaakov Peri, Knesset member for the centrist Yesh Atid and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous government, told Al-Monitor that he came away from the many talks he had had with Netanyahu under the impression that the prime minister fully understood the need to separate from the Palestinians. Nonetheless, Peri too believes that the Israeli government in its current composition is part of the problem, not the solution.
The prolonged stalemate in negotiations with the Palestinians — along with the government’s anti-democratic legislation, “religionization” of the school system, and the flood of police investigations directly and indirectly involving Netanyahu — are not achieving the critical mass in public opinion needed to bring down the government. Netanyahu is still the clear front-runner in public opinion polls. It would not be an overstatement to say that the fate of millions — both Israelis and Palestinians — lies in the hands of one man: Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. A decision on his part to indict Netanyahu, if only in relation to one small scandal, could put an end to Israel’s rightist, settler regime. The government’s collapse alone is not sufficient to promote the two-state solution, but it is an essential prerequisite.
The police and state attorneys involved in the various corruption investigations are in agreement about the facts. Even Netanyahu himself does not deny receiving gifts from business people. He claims a politician is entitled to accept presents from friends, and these have nothing to do with any activity on his part to promote their financial interests. The prime minister also admits to conducting talks with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth, on a deal for positive coverage. Netanyahu also claims, however, that he did not intend to follow through on any agreement discussed with Mozes and had only meant to entrap the media mogul.
Suspicions of criminal wrongdoing leap from every page of the state comptroller’s report on Bezeq Telecom published July 12. Netanyahu claims, of course, that he knew nothing about the attempts by his appointee Shlomo Filber, director of the Ministry of Communications —a portfolio Netanyahu also held until ordered by the courts to relinquish it — to benefit Shaul Elovitz, owner of the telecom giant and coincidentally a friend of the prime minister. It also just so happens that the Walla news website, which Elovitch also owns, competed with the free daily Yisraeli Hayom in flattering coverage of the Netanyahu family as Elovitch was allegedly enjoying the munificence of the Communications Ministry. The suspected bribery in a deal to sell German submarines and boats to the Israeli navy also stinks to high heaven, but the prime minister, alas, is merely the victim of chronic subversion by the media and the leftists seeking to topple him. He did not know what his cronies were up to in that affair either.
If Mandelblit follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, who was faced with decisions on two police investigations into Netanyahu, the prime minister need not worry, whereas the residents of Israel and the occupied territories should be concerned. In 1997, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein rejected recommendations by police to indict Netanyahu for allegedly colluding with a political crony to appoint attorney Ronnie Bar-On as attorney general. Rubinstein cited insufficient evidence. The Supreme Court rejected petitions against Rubinstein’s decision, but wrote that there was credible suspicion that the prime minister had conspired with the head of Shas, Aryeh Deri, to appoint Bar-On as part of an improper political deal.
In 2000, Rubinstein rejected the recommendation of State Attorney Edna Arbel to prosecute Netanyahu for allegedly taking bribes from a trucking company owner, Avner Amadi, who had done various jobs for the Netanyahu family free of charge. Arbel wrote that Netanyahu had abused his office to exploit the mover and to indicate that if he kept his mouth shut, he would be rewarded. Once again, Rubinstein cited insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
To nonetheless do something, Rubinstein initiated the practice of releasing public reports on investigations. He wrote, among other things, “One cannot rest easy under any circumstances knowing that Mr. Netanyahu, as prime minister and one serving in the most exclusive senior position in the public realm, did not divulge information about a private debt he incurred.” The attorney general noted that elected officials and civil servants, “not to mention those at the head of the pyramid and alongside it, have to make certain that they not fail in any way involving ‘ugliness,’ even if its criminality cannot be legally proven.” Will Mandelblit follow the same standard as Rubinstein and his successor, Manny Mazuz, who chose to close a case against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after police investigated him on suspicion of corruption?
Knesset member David Bitan revealed on July 17 that he had heard Netanyahu say that even if he is indicted in one of the cases, he has no intention of stepping down. Bitan promised to stand by the prime minister if such a situation comes to pass. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe that another 59 Knesset members — the number needed to reject a vote of no-confidence — can be persuaded to express trust in a leader who makes decisions on issues of war and peace in between his court dates.
Minister Yuval Steinitz, a protege of the Netanyahu family, said in the past that serious suspicions about the prime minister show that it is time for the government to step down and call new elections to put an end to its failures on the diplomatic and security front and flawed public probity. Those were his views and words in 2007, directed at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who tried to bring about peace but fell when corruption landed him in jail, paving Netanyahu's path back to power. Will corruption charges evict Netanyahu from the Prime Minister’s Office and pave the way to peace? Only Mandelblit knows.