Blue and White claims Netanyahu trial will ‘break’ right-wing bloc’s backing
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'When they realize his time is up, the game changes'

Blue and White claims Netanyahu trial will ‘break’ right-wing bloc’s backing

Officials in opposition party say filing of an indictment against the prime minister ‘changes calculations after the elections, for sure’; Yamina denies any change in support

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting at the Knesset with parties in his right-wing bloc on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting at the Knesset with parties in his right-wing bloc on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White officials said Tuesday that they are confidant the indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed Tuesday will wrench apart the bloc of parties that have pledged their support for the premier, potentially paving the way for Benny Gantz’s party to form a government after March’s election.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges against Netanyahu in Jerusalem District Court, following the prime minister’s Tuesday morning decision to withdraw his request for parliamentary immunity.

Several sources in Blue and White said that the prospect of Netanyahu being tried while trying to form a government would cause other parties to break their pledge of allegiance to the prime minister.

“It changes calculations after the elections, for sure,” one Blue and White MK who asked not to be named told The Times of Israel. “The bloc will realize that they cannot stick with a condemned man.”

After September’s election saw the right-wing and religious parties fail to garner enough support to form a coalition on their own, Netanyahu had Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism sign an agreement with his Likud to only enter coalition negotiations as a group.

Since then, the bloc representing 55 lawmakers has remained committed to Netanyahu, vowing to stick with him despite his legal troubles.

A spokesperson from Yamina denied it was considering breaking away from Netanyahu, and UTJ refused comment. Shas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A meeting of the heads of the bloc of parties supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), January 14, 2020. (Courtesy

The indictment “will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said a Blue and White source, claiming that Netanyahu may not only be facing huge public pressure to step down, but could also be looking at a potential court order blocking him from forming a government.

Mandelblit has refused to issue a decision on whether an indicted lawmaker can be tasked with forming a government and the High Court threw out a petition on the issue earlier this month, calling it “premature.”

Crucially, the panel of justices led by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut indicated it could re-examine the question after the election.

“If the trial doesn’t start before the election, it will almost certainly take place soon after. Either while [President Reuven] Rivlin is deciding [who will form a government] or immediately after that,” said the Blue and White MK. “When they realize his time is up, the game changes.”

Thus far, the right-wing and religious parties have shown no signs of abandoning the prime minister, who is in Washington for the unveiling of a US-drafted peace plan.

A Yamina spokesperson rejected the prediction, telling The Times of Israel that the party “is part of the right-wing bloc and will only join a government together with the Likud headed by Netanyahu.”

Defense Minister and Yamina chair Naftali Bennett chided Mandelblit for the timing of the indictment Tuesday. “I can’t understand why the attorney general hurried to immediately indict Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is just ahead of a historic event in Washington,” he wrote online. “Why should they humiliate Prime Minister Netanyahu precisely when he, abroad, represents all of us, all citizens of Israel? You could wait two days for his return to Israel.”

Responding to Mandelblit’s decision, “sources close to the prime minister” accused the attorney general of conducting a witch hunt against Netanyahu, a Likud spokesperson said in a statement.

“If anyone still had any doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu is the target of obsessive persecution, he was now given further clear and sharp proof,” a source was quoted as saying. “The eagerness to file the unfounded indictment against the prime minister is so great that they could not wait even one day until after the historic summit in Washington, one of the most important in the history of the state.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting of the right-wing bloc at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

The filing of charges came hours after Netanyahu announced Tuesday morning that he was withdrawing his request for parliamentary immunity from the pending indictment in the corruption cases against him. Netanyahu’s announcement came hours before the Knesset was set to form a committee to debate — and almost certainly reject — his immunity request.

In a Facebook post, the premier denounced the “immunity circus” taking place while he was in Washington on a “historic mission.”

“During this fateful time for the people of Israel, while I am in the US on a historic mission to shape Israel’s permanent borders and ensure our security for future generations, another Knesset episode is expected to begin in the immunity circus,” the prime minister wrote.

The date for Tuesday’s plenum discussion was set before the premier announced he would travel to Washington for the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited peace plan, whose timing, announced last week, has been criticized in Israel as an attempt to rescue Netanyahu from the immunity proceedings.

By withdrawing his request, the prime minister avoided the spectacle of defeat in the Knesset immunity process. Rather than battling for his immunity in the run-up to the elections, however, he will now face the electorate as a defendant in three criminal cases.

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