Benjamin Netanyahu and the State of Israel, despite what some people may think, are not identical entities. The state’s best interest and Netanyahu’s best interest are two different things. Especially at this stage, in which two state witnesses could get the prime minister in trouble.
In the coming weeks, we’ll likely hear Netanyahu’s battle formula again and again, perhaps every day: “There will be nothing because there is nothing.” His spokespeople will have to work overtime, because in the coming weeks and months Netanyahu will be busy, very busy. He will be forced to spend his time running from the interrogation rooms to his lawyers. What to say? How to respond?
When the suspicions against Ehud Olmert began, I wrote time and again that a prime minister should be exempt from investigations on matters related to actions that were committed before the elections, and when it came to a certain type of suspicion. Israel should adopt the French model of exempting leaders from investigations, under certain conditions of course. Because in Israel, more than in France and more than in most countries of the world, there is a huge burden on the prime minister.
But then came a stage in the Olmert era in which the devil’s dance around the prime minister made it impossible for him to function. Enough, I wrote at the time. We need a full-time prime minister. It’s not that Olmert then, or Netanyahu today, are criminals until proven innocent. On the contrary. They are entitled to the presumption of innocence. The solution, therefore, is a temporary leave of absence. Netanyahu should dedicate most of his time to his own affairs, and hopefully, if there will, as he says, be nothing because there is nothing, he will be able to reassume his position with greater support than before.
It’s not that Netanyahu isn’t important. He’s very important, but the state is more important. The state and its citizens need a full-time prime minister. How can someone seriously think that practical decisions, or weighty decisions in general, can be made when the head is someplace else? As long as the French model isn’t accepted in Israel, and it’s a shame it isn’t, the state’s best interest comes before the leader’s best interest.
And since every discussion on the issue immediately turns into a dialogue of the deaf between the Left and the Right, it should be mentioned that Likud members were the ones who opposed the French model at the time. They called on Olmert to resign at a stage in which the suspicions against him were a jot compared to the suspicions against Netanyahu today. It’s not that every probe or every newspaper headline require a resignation or a leave of absence. It was wrong in the Olmert era and it’s wrong where Netanyahu is concerned. But the situation that has been created is far from an initial investigation.
And no, it’s not the same. There’s a considerable difference between Olmert and Netanyahu. The suspicions against Olmert were not about things he did during his term as prime minister. In Netanyahu’s case, the suspicions are both heavier and related to actions committed during his term as prime minister.
If senior Likud members have a drop of intellectual integrity in them, they should say to Netanyahu: Please, take a leave of absence. We hope you are cleared. Because everything we said—and everything you said—to Olmert, must be said to you too.