Three Scenarios for Netanyahu’s Chaotic Climax: The Good, the Bad and the Horrendous

Benjamin Netanyahu has effectively ground Israeli democracy to a halt. The prime minister is holding his own country hostage. Netanyahu’s unrelenting effort to avoid criminal prosecution is the one and only reason that Israel is facing its third elections in a year. It's also the one and only reason that the rule of law is under threat, and the one and only reason that, in a worst-case scenario, calamity is just around the corner.

– Haaretz Weekly Episode 51

Haaretz Weekly Episode 51Haaretz

Make no mistake: Netanyahu’s usurpation of legitimate authority is already well under way. He short-circuited established norms after failing to form a government following the April elections by forcing a newly-elected Knesset to disperse itself rather than hand over his presidential mandate to Benny Gantz, as required by law. He is now on the verge of repeating the very same trick, despite his second straight electoral flop, and, more importantly, despite being indicted for corruption by Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit.

There are few democratic countries in which a prime minister who has been charged by his own police, state prosecutors and attorney general with bribery, fraud and breach of trust could remain at his job for more than 24 hours.

By the same token, there are few Israelis who could have imagined that a prime minister confronted with such a thoroughly investigated, extensively-documented and lengthily-deliberated criminal charge sheet would not only cling to power, but use all the powers invested in his august position in order to elude the long arm of the law.

Netanyahu has successfully transformed his personal presumption of innocence into a protective shield for his political fortunes as well. His backers cite Israel’s Basic Law, the Government, which compels the prime minister to resign only after a “final verdict” in the courts. And thus differentiates him from indicted cabinet ministers, who the Supreme Court has ruled cannot continue in office.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, listens to cabinet secretary Avichai Mendelblit during the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, November 16, 2014.אי־פי

They ignore the fact that the law only stipulates the latest date in which a prime minister must leave office; the law says nothing about when it is deemed immoral or irrational for him to remain at his job.

Netanyahu’s disciples also gloss over the fact that the law was intended to protect the legitimacy of elections, and that the people’s choice is not thwarted prematurely by legal proceedings. Netanyahu, however, has twice failed to gain a popular mandate and is functioning under what are supposed to be the limited authorities of a caretaker government. He is not “the prime minister” envisaged by the law.