Explanation: Israel’s Netanyahu faces legal proceedings and political difficulties
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets the 4,000,000 people vaccinated in Israel
By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal and political problems will unfold simultaneously on Monday at his corruption trial and at the president’s residence.
The judges ordered Netanyahu to stand trial on the prosecutor’s opening argument in three cases involving bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In the meantime, President Reuven Rivlin will begin talks on who should lead the next government after a fourth inconclusive election on March 23.
HOW CAN HE TRY AND STAY PRIME MINISTER?
Under Israeli law, a prime minister is not required to resign unless convicted. No other minister is protected in this way, so there are legal and political reasons why Netanyahu wants to stay at the top.
Netanyahu pleaded not guilty. He claims he is the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch hunt” by the left and media to oust him, and receiving gifts from friends is not against the law.
Could he go to jail?
Bribes carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years and / or a fine. Fraud and breach of trust are punishable by up to three years in prison
Prosecutors allege Netanyahu provided government favors to Bezeq Telecom Israel worth around 1.8 billion shekels (about $ 500 million).
In turn, prosecutors said he sought positive coverage of himself and his wife Sara on a news website controlled by former company chairman Shaul Elovitch.
Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Elovitch and his wife Iris were charged with bribery and obstruction of justice. The couple deny wrongdoing.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust for wrongly receiving gifts worth nearly 700,000 shekels (US $ 210,000) from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli national, and Australian billionaire James Packer.
Prosecutors said gifts included champagne and cigars and that Netanyahu was helping Milchan with his business interests. Packer and Milchan are not charged.
Netanyahu is said to have negotiated a deal with Arnon Mozes, owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, to get better coverage in exchange for laws slowing the growth of a competing newspaper. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust. Mozes has been accused of offering bribes and denies wrongdoing.
IS A VERDICT COMING SOON?
Unlikely. The process could take years. However, the process could be abandoned if Netanyahu seeks a plea deal.
ISRAELIS STILL WORRYING?
Yes. The corruption case was a polarizing issue in the recent elections.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered every week in front of his official residence and across Israel under the banner of the “Minister of Crime” demanding his resignation.
But his right-wing voter base sees “King Bibi” as a strong security and an influential voice for Israel abroad.
Meanwhile, Israel faces unprecedented political paralysis, an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, a new US administration hoping to revive nuclear talks with Iran, and an upcoming war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court.
($ 1 = 3.3300 shekels)