For PM, Wednesday sees both political and criminal woes come to a head

For PM, Wednesday sees both political and criminal woes come to a head

With coalition-building efforts stalled, Netanyahu may return mandate to for government to president, on same day his pre-indictment hearing in 3 graft cases begins

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, June 30, 2019. (Oded Balilty/AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, June 30, 2019. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces critical challenges on multiple fronts Wednesday, a day which may see him bring an early end to his efforts to form a government, as well as marking the first session of the long-expected pre-indictment hearing in his criminal cases.

On Wednesday morning, Netanyahu had been set to meet with Blue and White chief Benny Gantz in one final effort to reach agreements on a unity coalition between the two parties — but Gantz’s party announced Tuesday evening that the meeting would not go forward.

Netanyahu had said that if the meeting did not prove fruitful he would move immediately to return the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin. Such a move could potentially come as early as Wednesday.

On Sunday negotiations between representatives from the Likud party and Blue and White ended without progress, with both sides blaming the other for the lack of a breakthrough and apparent breakdown of the talks. Netanyahu then telephoned Gantz, who was in London, to arrange for them to meet Wednesday and for their negotiating teams to also talk. Gantz was reported to agree.

But Blue and White said Tuesday evening conditions had not ripened for such a meeting. Party officials said Likud was not negotiating in good faith, and was only seeking to blame them for the failure to form a government. The officials said talks could proceed if Likud came to the negotiation table without preconditions and without demanding ultra-Orthodox and other right-wing parties be part of any coalition.

After an inconclusive national election last month, Netanyahu had no obvious path to the 61-seat parliamentary majority required of a coalition government, so far securing the backing of just 55 of 120 Knesset members.

From R to L: President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz attend a memorial ceremony for late president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

If Netanyahu informs the president he is unable to form a government, Rivlin could next task Gantz with attempting to do so, but with only 54 members backing the latter — and the 10 Joint List MKs in Gantz’s bloc ruling out sitting in a coalition — the Blue and White leader’s prospects of cobbling together a ruling majority seem no less challenging. Rivlin, who is responsible for delegating a leader to form a government, said he had given Netanyahu the first shot at building a majority because he deemed him to have the better odds of success.

If no one is able to form a government by year’s end, the country could find itself headed to its third election in less than 12 months.

Wednesday will also be the first day in a week-long process that could be fateful to Netanyahu’s political and personal future: the day the hearing in the premier’s three graft cases begins.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday informed Netanyahu’s legal team that he had agreed to their request that the hearing be spread out over a week, instead of being held over just two days as originally scheduled.

Netanyahu’s lawyers had been scheduled to meet with Mandelblit on October 2 and 3 for the long-awaited hearing, in which they will try to convince the attorney general not to go ahead with plans to charge the prime minister in the three separate criminal cases.

Under the new arrangement, only arguments regarding Case 4000, the most serious of the corruption cases against Netanyahu, entailing suspicion of bribery offenses among others, will be held on Wednesday and Thursday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony for former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, at the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Hearings for Case 1000 and Case 2000 will be held the following Sunday and Monday, with proceedings coming to an end by Yom Kippur eve on Tuesday.

Netanyahu’s lawyers had filed the request Thursday, claiming they needed more time to present all of their arguments in the prime minister’s defense. That was the same day that Netanyahu had made a public appeal that the pre-indictment hearings be broadcast live, a request that Mandelblit rejected as “futile” and “without legal basis.”

It is not currently clear whether Netanyahu will be present at the hearing or parts of it.

In February, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending the hearing, on charges of fraud and breach of trust in the three separate cases, as well as bribery in Case 4000.

Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him and claims they constitute a witch hunt by his political opposition, media, police and state prosecutors to remove him from office, which he has held for a total of over 13 years, the longest in the state’s history.

Case 4000 involves accusations that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site. That case includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.

Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors. Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust.

Case 2000 revolves around accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. In this case, Mandelblit will seek to charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. Mozes underwent his own pre-indictment hearing last month.

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