The end of King Bibi? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 23, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:23 AM, November 23, 2019

The end of King Bibi?

Indicted Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving PM, fights for future

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment on corruption charges prompted speculation yesterday that the end of his decade-long tenure as ‘King Bibi’ is nigh.

The Jewish state woke up to an indicted sitting prime minister for the first time, after the country’s attorney general announced late Thursday he had charged the 70-year-old with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

After months of speculation Avichai Mandelblit’s decision was the worst possible outcome for Netanyahu, hitting him with the most serious charges.

Israel’s longest-serving premier swiftly hit back, vowing to fight on and accusing the police and legal system of bias against the right-wing in an often angry speech.

Any trial is likely months away, and -- if Netanyahu is found guilty -- a final conviction exhausting appeals could take years.

But his political authority is now under more intense scrutiny than ever.

Israel has been without a functioning government for nearly a year, with Netanyahu staying on in an interim capacity after two inconclusive elections in April and September.

Parliament has less than three weeks to find a candidate that can gain the support of more than half of the 120 lawmakers, or a deeply unpopular third election will be called.

For columnist Amit Segal, writing in the Yediot Ahronot daily, “irrespective of the moral and legal questions, the prime minister’s political situation is painfully clear: his chances of reaching 61 seats are almost non-existent.”

Netanyahu’s centrist rival Benny Gantz may now seek to encourage defections either from within the PM’s Likud party or from allied right-wing parties.

Gantz himself called on Netanyahu to step down and focus on the corruption allegations late Thursday -- a scenario that would see the premier out of power for the first time in ten years.

But he appeared primed to continue fighting the charges while clinging onto office.

“What is going on here is an attempt to stage a coup against the prime minister,” Netanyahu declared in a televised response to the charges.

Under Israeli law, while ministers cannot remain in place after being indicted, a prime minister is not legally required to resign unless convicted with appeals processes exhausted.

In addition to the premiership, Netanyahu holds portfolios including agriculture and health, positions he will likely have to vacate in the coming days.

The charges against him range from receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars to a deal to change regulation in favour of a media group in exchange for positive coverage.

In the most serious case, known as Case 4,000, he is alleged to have negotiated with the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecommunications giant Bezeq to secure positive coverage on the Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefiting Bezeq.

Commentators said the perennial fighter could be entering his last bout but was likely to go down             swinging.

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