Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that ongoing corruption probes against him are not affecting his ability to manage the country and that early elections are not a foregone conclusion.
At a rare press conference following his announcement of Amir Yaron as his preferred candidate for the next Bank of Israel governor, Netanyahu insisted a series of police investigations were not hindering his work.
“I am performing well, working a lot and not taking my eyes off the target,” he said. “I’m doing what needs to be done to preserve the interests of the State of Israel.”
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.
He stressed there was no connection between the possibility of early elections and the ongoing probes against him. He also said he was not involved in the appointment of the next police chief.
The attorney general has yet to decide on charging Netanyahu in any of the cases, though he would not have to step down unless the Knesset voted to strip his immunity.
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.
The short press conference was an uncommon event for Netanyahu, who has been famously shy about taking reporters’ question in an open forum.
During the presser, the premier vowed that Ashraf Na’alowa, the Palestinian suspected of murdering two Israelis in a Sunday terror attack in the Barkan Industrial Park, would be caught and tried.
“It will not take much time until we catch this bastard,” he said. “It is hard to describe the viciousness and brutality of tying up a woman and shooting her. We will catch him and bring him to trial.”
Netanyahu called “unnecessary” a recent public spat between Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett over how to deal with tensions on the Gaza border.
“The defense minister is doing his job,” he said. “It is permitted for ministers, and it is their duty, to criticize. But that should be done within cabinet discussions.”
Regarding the ongoing conflict with Gazan residents along the border, Netanyahu said that the government was continuing its contacts with the Palestinians in order to find a solution to the situation.
“We are trying to create a solution that will return the quiet and security to the towns along the Gaza periphery,” he said. “The Palestinian side is being cautious. I think that they also understand that if there is a confrontation they will pay a very heavy price.”
He blamed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has cut a lot of the financing for Gaza, for increasing the tension.
“We do not want the continued low-level flames to continue, we insist that it must end. Meanwhile, Abbas is strangling them economically and so they launch partial battles against Israel,” he added. “We are not prepared to accept this. There are attempts to reach a practical solution. I think that this has to be done. I am not eager to start an unnecessary war.”
Border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have increased dramatically in recent weeks. They began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as Hamas entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.
As the talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.
Security officials fear the halt of some $96 million that the PA sends monthly to the Gaza Strip could drive a desperate and cash-strapped Hamas toward conflict with Israel.
The clashes along the border, which Israel maintains are being directed by Hamas, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, and attempts to breach the border fence.
Gazans have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.
At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to Associated Press figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.