Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Tuesday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot continue to lead Israel if he is charged in a series of corruption probes, as talk of early elections gathered pace.
“A prime minister under indictment and after a hearing cannot function,” Kahlon said in an interview with Hadashot TV news.
Kahlon, a former member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who now heads the center-right Kulanu, said in March he would pull out of the coalition if the premier is indicted. Such a move would lead to the government’s collapse and likely presage early elections.
The finance minister said at the time he expected Netanyahu would step down by himself if indicted, or that he would be forced out by other members of the coalition.
His remarks came hours after Netanyahu insisted the police investigations were not hindering his work.
Netanyahu has been grilled by police a dozen times in recent months over suspicions against him in three separate graft cases, raising speculation that he may call snap elections to gain a new mandate before any possible indictment.
Rebuffing rumors that he would call new elections soon after the Knesset returns from its recess next week, the premier said an early vote is not inevitable.
He said his government was “making efforts” to solve coalition crises, “including the [ultra-Orthodox] draft problem,” and would be “happy” to see his government last until November 2019, when elections must take place by law.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, however, expressed confidence that the government would serve out the end of its term, saying he believed early elections are inevitable.
“I estimate the elections will be held at the end of the winter,” Deri told the Walla news site Tuesday evening.
He said he expects a date for early Knesset elections to be determined after municipal elections are held later this month.
Also Tuesday, a leader of a coalition party told Channel 10 news that assuming Netanyahu is reelected, his party will support a law that grants the prime minister immunity in case he is charged in one or more of the corruption cases against him.
According to the report, the unnamed minister explained that toppling Netanyahu’s government after the election would be a “distortion of the voters’ wishes,” since they are already aware of the suspicions against the premier.
He also said his party wouldn’t want to strengthen another senior Likud member, who would replace Netanyahu, ahead of elections that would follow.
Coalition whip David Amsalem had said earlier Tuesday that he would vote in favor of preserving the prime minister’s immunity in case of an indictment.
Netanyahu said he thought it would be a moot point anyway. “I don’t think I will need to preserve my immunity because I don’t think they will file an indictment against me,” he said.