Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Monday that she believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will remain in power after the elections in April, but that with the threat of indictment imminent in several corruption cases, his next term will be his last.
Speaking at the Calcalist financial newspaper’s “Outlook 2019” conference in Tel Aviv, Shaked said that her newly unveiled New Right party would not be campaigning to replace the incumbent prime minister but hoped to serve as a senior member of his next government.
“The next prime minister will be Netanyahu, and we definitely want to be partners in his coalition. We want to be dominant partners,” Shaked said, stressing that she also wanted to remain justice minister after the elections.
But she also said that the investigations into Netanyahu, in which police and state prosecutors have already recommended bribery charges, could end his decade-long stint as prime minister, while declining to say if her party would call for him to step down if indicted.
“My assumption is that this will be Netanyahu’s last term,” she said, nothing that “he’s not all that young.”
She added: “I don’t know what will happen with the investigations. I hope they are closed and that the prime minister finishes his term, but we really don’t know — we will have to see,” said the justice minister, whose purview includes the attorney general, who will make a final decision on bringing charges against the prime minister.
“My position has been and remains that there is no need to do anything until after the final indictment is brought. If, heaven forbid, there is an indictment, we will sit down and look at the material and make a decision,” she said.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision on whether to indict, and if yes, on what charges, could have a profound influence on the elections in April and on Netanyahu’s ability to continue to lead the country. He has vowed not to step down even if he is indicted.
The prime minister, who has been in office since 2009, has denied wrongdoing and portrays the three separate cases against him — in which he was allegedly bribed in return for regulatory help — as part of a conspiracy against him that encompasses the left, the media, and law enforcement officials.
Shaked said that regardless of Mandelblit’s final decision, she felt it would be “unfair” for it to be announced during the latter stages of the campaign due to the potential to influence voters.
“I think it would be inappropriate to announce an indictment a month or two before elections, because that can effect the results. I don’t think it’s right or fair,” she said, while conceding that it would “a different story” if Mandelblit made a decision in the coming weeks. Shaked nonetheless stressed she had “no idea whatsoever” when such a decision would be made.
Asked if instead of being given the Justice Ministry, she would rather have a perceived promotion to finance minister, Shaked said she has “always held a keen interest in the role” but expected it would remain with Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon.
Shaked, along with Naftali Bennett, announced on Saturday night that she was departing the Jewish Home party to forge a “true partnership between secular and religious,” saying that the stalwart party of religious Zionism had lost its influence over Netanyahu, and that a new right-wing platform was needed to challenge the premier.
She said Monday that she believes the “journey into the unknown” can turn the new party into a serious political player, but was under no illusions that it could beat Netanyahu’s Likud.
“We will see how the public takes it, ” she said. “We are a party with a clear character — right-wing on security, right-wing economically. And we want to get as many [Knesset seats] as we can, but we will have to see.”
But, Shaked added, “of course there is the possibility of sitting in the opposition or even not passing the electoral threshold.”
Polls published Sunday predicted a range of results for the New Right if elections were held today. Five wildly divergent surveys — all of which saw the Likud party with a wide lead over its rivals — gave the new Bennett-Shaked alliance anywhere between six and 14 seats.
The Likud party responded to Shaked’s Monday comments, saying that the formation of the New Right “brings right-wing parties to the cusp of the electoral threshold and destroys the right-wing bloc, leading to a left-wing government.”
The ruling party accused Shaked and Bennett of “targeting the entire right-wing bloc… in order to transfer the seats from right to left and into the lap of [Yesh Atid party chairman] Yair Lapid.”
On Monday morning, former coalition whip David Bitan told Channel 10 that if Netanyahu is indicted, it will only help his Likud party in the polls.
“Even if the attorney general decides to indict him, which I think would be completely unreasonable, it will only increase our votes at the ballot box and we will win by a large margin,” Bitan said.
He also addressed Shaked and Bennett’s new party, saying he was concerned that it may harm the prospects of the right in the upcoming election.
“I am not excited about splits — they usually bring more seats for each side, but in the present situation the main danger is that one of the parties will not pass the electoral threshold,” he said. “On one hand, they denigrated the religious Zionist movement and said it was in Netanyahu’s pocket, but on the other hand they attacked Netanyahu in order to try to take votes from the Likud party,” Bitan added.
Meanwhile, MK Motti Yogev of the Jewish Home party told the Ynet news site that he had asked Netanyahu to fire Bennett and Shaked because they are serving as ministers on behalf of a party of which they are no longer members.