Israel’s Netanyahu facing fight of his political life

Anyone who thought a decision on the long-running corruption investigation embroiling Israel's prime minister would resolve the country's political turmoil was wrong.

On Thursday Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to indictments on charges of bribery and fraud with a vitriolic attack on law enforcement, the judicial system and what he sees as hostile left-wing media. He claimed that police and prosecutors were conducting a grand conspiracy to remove him from power.

This was a line of attack he'd taken as the investigation closed in, and one he's expected to continue as the country staggers towards more months of political crisis.

And although Mr Netanyahu has been weakened, he has time on his side as he continues to struggle for political survival.

Uncharted territory

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced the indictment after three years of probes into the prime minister's relationships with wealthy friends.

Mr Netanyahu is accused of accepting expensive gifts in exchange for political favours, and doing deals to get good press coverage.

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Mr Mandelblit insisted he was not politically motivated but had acted professionally to uphold the law.

The force of Mr Netanyahu's response alarmed observers of Israel's political scene.

"He will set everything ablaze," wrote Ben Caspit of Maariv, a daily newspaper. "He won't stop until all is rubble."

Whatever the case, this certainly is uncharted territory. It's the first time a sitting prime minister in Israel has been indicted with criminal charges. And it comes in the midst of an unprecedented political stalemate.

Leadership challenge?

Mr Netanyahu and his main political opponent Benny Gantz have both failed to form a government after two rounds of inconclusive elections.

The indictment seems to have made the chances of cobbling together a working coalition even more remote, increasing the prospect of another return to the ballot box.

A lot will depend on senior members of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party. Until now they have maintained their tribal loyalty to the prime minister, but he is facing a possible challenge from within.

The education minister, Gideon Saar, has called for party primaries to replace him. There may well yet be others.

There may also be shifts in political alignments as the right-wing parties allied with Likud assess the price to be paid in the event of another election under Mr Netanyahu's leadership. There's little doubt amongst political observers that Mr Netanyahu wants an election, which at the very least would buy him time.

He's been preoccupied with efforts to form a right-wing government that would vote to grant him immunity from prosecution.

Despite failing to do so, his status as a member of the Knesset gives him 30 days to ask the legislative body to grant him such immunity. The indictment cannot be formally filed unless this process happens.

But that request for immunity cannot be made until there is a functioning goRead More – Source

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