Despite polls, probes, Netanyahu expects government to last until 2019

Despite polls, probes, Netanyahu expects government to last until 2019

Prime minister boasts of improving health, security for Israelis, says he hopes to soon pass budget for remainder of scheduled term

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

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem on December 29, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem on December 29, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday boasted that his government would soon pass a budget that would see it through until November 2019, implying that he is not expecting to be forced to the ballot before then despite growing pressure from two graft probes against him that police are currently completing.

The embattled prime minister, facing the possibility of an eighth round of questioning as a suspect in two separate corruption investigations, spoke of his confidence in the government at a press conference presenting the recommendations on the healthcare basket, an annually updated list of medicines and treatments covered by the state.

“Our government is doing very important things for the health of Israeli citizens,” he said, “and also, of course, for the security of the state of Israel. We will soon pass a budget for 2019 so that this government can continue until the end of its term in November, 2019,” the date when elections would be mandated.

His announcement came amid reports that police are formulating a recommendation that Netanyahu stand trial over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests, to be presented to the State Prosecution in the coming weeks.

Police investigators arrive at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a pair of corruption investigations, on November 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu is a suspect in two corruption investigations, known as cases 1000 and 2000.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu, who has denied wrongdoing in both cases, last week played down the significance of the looming police recommendation he stand trial.

His determination not to be forced to early elections was likely underscored by a new poll released Thursday that Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win the most seats if elections were held today.

Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, November 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The poll, commissioned by Makor Rishon newspaper, showed that Yesh Atid would win 25 seats, up from its current 11, with Netanyahu’s Likud party falling from 30 to only 24. According to the poll, the biggest loser would be Zionist Union, under new leader Avi Gabbay, which is projected to fall from 24 seats down to only 12.

The Kulanu party led by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon — who would likely face pressure to pull his party out of the coalition and force new elections if police recommend indicting Netanyahu — would win 11 seats according to the poll, a gain of a single seat.

The poll of 507 people, found that Jewish Home would gain six seats, taking them to 14; the Joint (Arab) List would lose two seats, giving them 11; United Torah Judaism would go up by one to seven seats; Shas would drop three seats down to four; Meretz would receive seven seats, a gain of two; and Yisrael Beytenu would lose one seat putting it on five.

Despite Yesh Atid’s strong showing, when asked who their preferred choice for prime minister is, respondents still placed Netanyahu on top, though far below previous polls, with 24 percent of respondents supporting him, compared to only 18% for Lapid.

Other candidates earned far less support with former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon gaining 7%; Avi Gabbay and Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett on 6%, and Avigdor Liberman with just 3%.

A full third of respondents said they did not want any of those candidates to lead the country.


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