Liberman: Netanyahu’s chances of forming government if charged ‘close to zero’

Liberman: Netanyahu’s chances of forming government if charged ‘close to zero’

Yisrael Beytenu leader reportedly claims PM may strike plea deal before elections, quit politics in exchange for not being indicted pending a hearing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman has reportedly claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely fail to form a government even if his Likud party wins the elections, due to coalition partners’ refusal to serve under a premier who may by then be formally accused of criminal offenses.

The Yisrael Beytenu party leader said a possible scenario would see Netanyahu reaching a plea deal in which he would quit politics before the April 9 vote, in exchange for not being charged in the three corruption cases against him, the Ynet website reported Sunday.

“If such a deal is signed, Likud will have to choose an heir [to Netanyahu] before the elections,” he reportedly said. “In such a case we are in for a shakeup and it isn’t clear how it will end.”

Police have recommended Netanyahu stand trial for bribery in three separate corruption cases. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is currently reviewing the material and is reportedly set to announce a decision this month, but final charges would only be filed after a hearing procedure, which could take up to a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

“Likud will win the election, but it is safe to assume that if it is decided to file an indictment against Benjamin Netanyahu before the elections, his chance of forming a new government are close to nil,” Liberman reportedly said at a closed meeting in the town of Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem.

“Therefore, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Netanyahu will reach a plea deal before the elections,” Liberman continued.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett is seen during a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Liberman’s telling, rival right-wing leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett would stymie Netanyahu’s ability to form a coalition after elections.

Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who together recently launched the New Right party, haven’t clearly said whether they would agree to join Netanyahu’s government if Mandelblit announces an indictment pending a hearing before the election.

Last month, Hadashot TV aired a report saying that as part of the so-called Bezeq corruption case, or Case 4000, Netanyahu had personally overseen a political hit job against Bennett, pushing for the Walla news website to publish a report that Bennett’s wife, Gilat, had served as a chef at non-kosher restaurants, and another report linking Bennett’s father to incitement against assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s.

“It is clear to me that Bennett hasn’t forgotten or forgiven Netanyahu for anything, mainly what he tried to concoct on the Walla website against his wife and father,” Liberman reportedly told supporters.

“Bennett will readily stab Netanyahu in the back, stand in front of the cameras and passionately speak about the rule of law and moral integrity,” he said. “Some of the other potential partners will do the same. I think they’re lying in wait for Netanyahu to be charged.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman launches his party’s elections campaign in Tel Aviv on January 20, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Liberman stressed that as long as Netanyahu isn’t convicted and all his appeals are rejected — a process likely to take several years at least — his Yisrael Beytenu party will regard Netanyahu as innocent.

The New Right responded by slamming Liberman and mocking him for publicly saying several years ago that if he is made defense minister, Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh would be dead within 48 hours. Liberman was then appointed defense minister and did not deliver on his promise.

“As the public understood long ago, MK Liberman is a tireless talker. The terrorist Ismail Haniyeh, who is still patiently waiting for the end of Liberman’s 48-hour threat, can testify to that,” Bennett and Shaked’s party said.

“The New Right party stands behind its clear stance: We will recommend that the president task Netanyahu to form the government.”

The Likud party did not comment on Liberman’s remarks.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors.

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

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and has claimed the investigations are part of a political vendetta and witch hunt aimed at ousting him, involving the political left, the media and the police.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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