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Benjamin Netanyahu: The fugitive Crime Minister

Opinion
on 16 Comments

In a move considered surreal even two days ago, the Israeli Knesset – elected on April 9th – dissolved itself last night (Wednesday). Some new Members of Knesset didn’t even get to get to give their maiden speech.

The vote on dismissal came after a few political days which cannot be described as anything but lunatic.

In an attempt to get extra votes to get his government past the president, Netanyahu tried:

  • To get Labour to join his family, and failed.
  • He offered Tal Russo, a former general in 2nd place in Labour, the office of the Minister of Defense if he’d support his government. Russo, to his credit, said no.
  • Random Blue-White new MKs, still trying to find their way in the Knesset (in the lead rival party to Netanyahu’s Likud), were dumbfounded to be offered ambassadorships if they’d only support Netanyahu’s government. As this was a downgrade from the ministry positions they were offered in the last two days, they sensibly turned the offer down.
  • Haaretz reported sources in the Knesset said Netanyahu desperately tried to convince the two Palestinian MKs of the RAAM party to leave the plenum and avoid voting against his government, promising to stop the demolition of Bedouin houses in the south and recognition of an unrecognized Palestinian village; this ploy failed, as well.

With no cards up his sleeve and no rabbits in his hat, the so-called wizard of Israeli politics managed to pull an extraordinary act of self-immolation.

The “King” of Israeli politics failed to create a coalition, and he has only himself to blame. Let’s recount what happened, and begin with what we know. The unknowable will remain such.

Some basic law is needed. By law, once the Knesset is elected, the President must appoint an Member of Knesset – legally, any MK he so desires – to form a government. Without exception in the last 71 years, this was entrusted to the MK who had a majority around him. Often it was the leader of the largest party, but the system works by blocs: if you have 35 MKs in your party and can get another 26 MK’s to tell the President they support you,  you will automatically be offered first dibs at the premiership. This is what happened: Netanayhu went to President Rivlin with 65 supporters, and was given 28 days to form a government.

He failed. This wasn’t of much concern, as it happens almost every time. Netanyahu then asked for, and duly received, the customary 14 extra days to form a government. This is all part of the coalition chicken game: the parties are trying to get as much as they can from the would-be prime minister. They want offices, budgets, sinecures, bills passed. They wave an unloaded gun around, threatening to shoot themselves in the head if the prime minister doesn’t cave to their demands.

So far, so good. Parties are supposed to represent their voters, and get as much as they can for them as is legally decent. But everyone knows the game has to end not 14 days after the extension, but 12: it takes at least a day to write down a semi-respectable coalition agreement, which is a binding legal document.

By law, there are three ways to resolve a case if a candidate can’t create a coalition in 42 days (28 + 14):

  1. The President orders another MK to form a government. The only MK explicitly prohibited from trying is the one who just failed (in our case, Netanyahu).
  2. The President, having reached the conclusion no MK can realistically form a coalition, informs the Chairman of the Knesset he believes new elections should be held.
  3. The Knesset dissolves itself. It is sovereign to do so at any point.

Options 2 and 3 were never used before.

By late Thursday last week, you could sense something was going wrong. Netanyahu went to the President with 65 supporters – but he couldn’t get them to form a coalition. Noted racist and underworld figure, Avigdor “there are no testimonies against me because the witnesses are all dead” Lieberman, insisted on an arcane amendment to a dead parrot, the Equality in Enlistment Bill. The correction would move the right to set the minimum limit of ultra-Orthodox military draftees from the government to the Knesset. Lieberman claimed, correctly, that if the government could set the limit, it would set a low limit which will allow most ultra-Orthodox draftees to stay home. Lieberman knows this, because he sat in several governments which did precisely that for the last 15 years. The ultra-Orthodox parties, for their part, said the amendment would pass over their dead bodies. Given Lieberman’s reputation regarding dead bodies, that’s not a threat I’d make easily, but they did it anyway.

Any normal prime minister would, in such a case, opt for 2. You’d let Benny Gantz of Blue-White waste time for 28 days trying hopelessly to create a coalition, and when his time was up, you’d go back to the President and ask for a second attempt.

But Netanyahu didn’t dare do so. There were several reasons.

First, just as Netanyahu tried to get Blue-White MKs into his coalition, Gantz could do the same with Likud MKs. Netanyahu was haunted by two scenarios: One, Gantz offering a unity government to Likud and a majority in Likud supporting that deal so as to get rid of Netanyahu; Second, that once Gantz failed, President Rivlin would offer another Likudnik a chance at forming a coalition, and that Likudnik would form a coalition with Blue-White.

The last scenario so haunted Netanyahu, a couple of months before the elections, he tried to change the Basic Law so that the President could only offer the office to party leaders, not any run of the mill MK. When pressed for a reason for changing a Basic Law which worked well for decades, Netanyahu claimed he knew of a conspiracy between President Rivlin and Gideon Sa’ar, a Likudnink, to have Rivlin declare Sa’ar Prime Minister after the elections. Both denied the claim furiously, and unlike Netanyahu, Rivlin is regarded as an honorable man who respects his office. Such shenanigans are beyond him.

But, above it all, the legal clock is ticking.

Netanyahu is a suspect in three legal cases. He has a right to a hearing before a formal indictment. Netanyahu decided on the April elections because he knew the spineless attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, would inform the public in February about the coming indictments. Once Mandelblit did so, Netanyahu demanded the hearing would be postponed until after the elections. Mandelblit complied.

The elections over, Mandelblit asked Netanyahu’s lawyers to come and get the indictment materials by May 20th, so he could set a hearing for July. Shockingly, they refused to do so. When Mandelblit tried to send them the material via messenger, the lawyers refused to accept it. Their excuse was priceless: Netanyahu didn’t pay them, since he didn’t want to pay his legal fees himself, and was futilely trying to convince a government committee to let foreign oligarchs pay for his legal fees. The committee demurred, demanding Netanyahu would give a full account of his financial affairs, in particular his financial connections with said oligarchs. Netanyahu refused to do so.

Mandelblit then informed the lawyers they can either take it or leave it: the hearing would take place in July. Upon which, most of Netanyahu’s lawyers resigned, presumably still unpaid. One of them remained, and asked for a postponement of the hearing, since he was new at his job and the amount of material was enormous. Mandelblit obliged, and set the hearing for October.

Netanyahu was buying time. He was furiously trying to convince his new would-be coalition to pass two laws: One was an amendment forcing the attorney general to convince the MKs to remove Netanyahu’s immunity before indictment; the other was a legal monstrosity called the Overbearing Clause, which will allow the Knesset to annul any and all judicial reviews of laws and government decisions. Basically it would turn the legal system into a dead letter. These laws would need time, but they would get Netanyahu off the legal hooks. His ultra-Orthodox and settler allies were perfectly willing to pass these laws, as they are hostile to the judicial system.

Netanyahu announced this policy publicly: His indictment, he said, will wait until he will end his service as prime minister. This is contrary to what he said during the April elections, when he affected astonishment at the very idea of legislation intended to unshackle him from the law, but if you believe Netanyahu – well, you can only blame yourself and enlist in the undying army of the suckers.

And then Lieberman threw a spanner in the works. The hearing would be in October. If Netanyahu cannot form a government, he cannot legislate. If we the Knesset is dispersed, the legal clock will keep on ticking without Netanyahu being able to emasculate the courts.

Why? Nobody knows. Anyone who tells you he knows why is probably mistaking conjecture for knowledge. But the fact is: Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset so as not to face an option of a coup within his own party, which in turn would lead him to the penitentiary.

The die has been cast. Nobody knows where it will fall. Nothing like this has ever happened. Nobody knows how the public will react. I will hazard one guess: Lieberman, having won the chicken game of all chicken games, will gain a sizable number of votes, likely at the expense of Blue-White and Meretz. Any other guess (let’s not have the audacity to call it “analysis”) is a fool’s game.

Yossi Gurvitz

Yossi Gurvitz is a journalist and a blogger, and has covered the occupation extensively.

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16 Responses

  1. Keith on May 30, 2019, 3:43 pm

    I had a bizarre thought. Is there any chance that Netanyahu would flee Israel for the US seeking asylum?

    • JWalters on May 30, 2019, 6:38 pm

      If Netanyahu flees to the US, will Congress invite him to give a speech?

      Speaking of odd thoughts, maybe it’s from recently watching the British “Worricker” spy series, but perhaps the powers behind Israel want to replace Netanyahu with a new face, less soiled, and claim a “fresh start” for their corrupt, war profiteering, Zionist project.

      (Israel is not actually run by a relatively small bunch of religious fanatics.)

    • DaBakr on May 30, 2019, 6:52 pm

      @k

      delusional thinking or more precisely : yes. It’s a bizarre thought if you knew anything about Benjamin Netanyahu except for his campaign tactics. You are usually more observant but I suppose bibi clouds your reasoning. You might as well imagine trump seeking refuge with putin.

      As for the authors piece? Just when I thought MW pieces were becoming ever-so-slightly more moderate, bang. There you go.

      Also, as convoluted and messy as it may be, it is a slap in the face to those who claim Israel is no democracy. I think the polls have over 20% of Israeli Arab voters (that voted) voting for zionist parties. I’m not sure but think the Arab Israeli vote is apprx @ 50% turnout. Extrapolate on that all you want.

      • Misterioso on May 31, 2019, 9:37 am

        @DaBakr

        Reality:
        A reminder.

        To be brief:
        “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons. ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”
        EXCERPT: “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in ISRAEL [my emphasis] and the West Bank today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added [Alon] Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.” (Times of Israel, February 21, 2013)

        Video: Israeli TV Host Implores Israelis: Wake Up and Smell the Apartheid
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyyUvxHLYr4

        In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, issued in 2016,the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.” (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)

        “Construction, Not Destruction”
        “While Israeli Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population, Arab communities’ jurisdictions occupy just 2.5 percent of the state’s land area, and the process of approving new construction in Arab towns takes decades.” (Haaretz Editorial, April 4, 2017)

        The effect of Israel’s blatantly racist “Citizenship Law” and more than fifty other restrictions Arab citizens have to endure is well expressed by writer and Knesset member, Ahmed Tibi, “…dutifully defining the state [of Israel] as ‘Jewish and democratic,’ ignores the fact that in practice ‘democratic’ refers to Jews, and the Arabs are nothing more than citizens without citizenship.” (Ma’ariv, 1.6.2005)

        Jan 19, 2018 – Haaretz
        Opinion: “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism” by Zeev Sternhell.**
        EXCERPT:
        “I frequently ask myself how a historian in 50 or 100 years will interpret our period. When, he will ask, did people in Israel start to realize that the state that was established in the War of Independence, on the ruins of European Jewry and at the cost of the blood of combatants some of whom were Holocaust survivors, had devolved into a true monstrosity for its non-Jewish inhabitants. When did some Israelis understand that their cruelty and ability to bully others, Palestinians or Africans, began eroding the moral legitimacy of their existence as a sovereign entity?”

        ** Zeev Sternhell is a Polish-born Israeli historian, political scientist, commentator on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and writer. He is one of the world’s leading experts on fascism. Sternhell headed the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

      • Keith on May 31, 2019, 2:05 pm

        DABAKR- “It’s a bizarre thought if you knew anything about Benjamin Netanyahu except for his campaign tactics.”

        Since Israel is viewed as a sort of safe haven for Jews fleeing prosecution (think Russian oligarchs), I thought it humorous to imagine Netanyahu fleeing Israel for empire. This is somewhat akin to someone fleeing Las Vegas to escape charges of illegal gambling.

        Yet, upon additional thought, there is a certain logic here. A professional liar who speaks good English and was educated and lived in the US, he is a natural. He could become Trump’s National Security Advisor. He wouldn’t be any more warlike than Bolton, and, unlike Bolton, he is at least somewhat sane. He has cordial relations with Putin and could put a stop to this insane Russophobia. What anti-Semite would dare call him Putin’s puppet? In the Kafkaesque world we live in, bizarre is the new normal!

      • DaBakr on June 2, 2019, 4:16 am

        @k

        What I meant is bibi will never leave Israel. Yes, he was educated in Cheltenham PA. And received one or possibly two PhD a in US before returning to Israel. He served in active combat and was wounded in the suppression of a terror operation,. He suffered his brothers death in another rescue mission and his father was a brilliant but ideological scholar. His entire core is devoted to protecting his beloved Israel. His best days were probably in NYC as UN Ambassador but, alas, he got older and his path called him until politics.

    • pabelmont on May 31, 2019, 7:52 pm

      And then, if Trump is impeached (and convicted in the Senate), Trump could thereafter be indicted for the crimes he was immune w.r.t. while president and Bibi could watch! Love it! Question: would DOJ under Pence agree to prosecute Trump in that case? Would either agree not to return Bibi to Israel (our good friend and ally).

  2. Mooser on May 30, 2019, 4:39 pm

    Hadash made netanyahoo a most generous offer enabling him to form a government.

  3. Mayhem on May 30, 2019, 8:23 pm

    It’s not all about Netanyahu.

    • echinococcus on May 31, 2019, 12:09 am

      The Zionist anklebiter “Mayhem” is right: “It’s not all about Netanyahu”. The Yahoo is negligible. This is about the Zionist invasion and occupation of Palestine. As long as that continues, articles like this one by Gurvitz are only of interest to people who intend to continue the occupation and the US-Zionist occupation state.

      • DaBakr on June 2, 2019, 9:02 am

        Oh no. That’s not all. We are highly interested in pushing an international movement to partition the fake nation of Jordan into a national state for its 85% Palestinians plus other major tribes granted autonomy. Some adjustment to the borders and potential land swaps with safety guaranteed for the little hashemite dynasty. Unless MW folks loooove the Hashemite prince too much to even consider sacrificing himself for Palestinian rights

  4. Ossinev on May 31, 2019, 12:48 pm

    @Keith
    “I had a bizarre thought. Is there any chance that Netanyahu would flee Israel for the US seeking asylum?”

    Shouldn`t that read “seeking the presidency”. ?

  5. Vera Gottlieb on May 31, 2019, 3:28 pm

    I have nothing but contempt for this guy. In my view he has tarnished israel’s reputation.

  6. annie on June 1, 2019, 1:46 pm

    remember the 1,200 hidden cameras in palestinian-israeli polling centers? what if in the next election “arabs came out in droves”? i wonder how that might impact the outcome.

    • gamal on June 1, 2019, 5:05 pm

      you can’t pause vinyl so i got up lifted the stylus and listened to this, thanks Annie..not everyone blue then …if you not happy you must be…but me i party at the end of Ramadan..everyday is Christmas.

  7. Mooser on June 3, 2019, 4:26 pm

    The Israelis better do something. Their boss is noticing the confusion and collapse:

    “Trump tells Israelis to ‘get their act together,’ as country gears up for second election this year”

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