Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said that he is still trying to form a unity government with rival Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, while calling into question the legitimacy of being removed from office by criminal proceedings against him.
“Those who should choose the prime minister are the country’s citizens and no one else,” Netanyahu said at a meeting with municipal council leaders of his Likud party at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan.
Last Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said that he would charge the prime minister with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases.
Netanyahu has vowed to stay in office and has dismissed the charges as a politically motivated frame-job, part of an effort by law enforcement officials, including the police and prosecutors, to remove him from office.
“You can’t have the pressing of witnesses with extortion and threats,” Netanyahu said Monday, a reference to media reports that a state witness in the most serious case against him was pressured by police who allegedly used the witness’s relationship with a woman to convince him to testify against the prime minister. Details of the circumstances are bound by a court gag order.
“That is not democracy,” Netanyahu said.
“No one is above the law, not the prime minister, not the president, not the police, and not the prosecutors,” said Netanyahu, who has called to “investigate the investigators” in his corruption cases.
The comments came several hours before Mandelblit ruled that Netanyahu does not have to step down as prime minister as long as he is at the head of a transition government. The attorney general said a decision on whether he could be tasked with forming a new government after expected March elections would be dealt with at a later time.
Two inconclusive elections this year in April and September, have failed to produce an elected government. Neither Likud or Blue and White, the two largest parties, gained enough votes to form a majority and have so far been unable to agree on a unity government, making third elections all but inevitable.
However, the prime minister said there is still contact with Gantz to form a unity government. Netanyahu warned that immediate security threats to the country demand a government be established rather than another round of elections, in what would be the third vote within a year.
“We still have an objective and it is still possible to establish a unity government,” Netanyahu said. “It is necessary specifically for reasons not all of which I can elaborate on. There are immediate challenges and they are not small.”
Netanyahu pointed to the threat of missile attacks from Iran and also other countries in the region where Iran is establishing a foothold through proxy militias.
“I am still trying in various ways to put together a government with Benny Gantz,” he said. “However, if we are doomed to go to elections, the people will decide who will lead us.”
But a Blue and White source told the Ynet news website that whereas the party was still open to form a government on its own terms, there were no ongoing negotiations.