Netanyahu's big problem: Evidence has rules of its own
Analysis: No speech, as good as it may be, can rescue the prime minister from the legal imbroglio he has gotten himself into; even if the two cases against him are combined into one, and even if Case 2000 is closed and Case 1000 is reduced from bribery suspicions to fraud and breach of trust, he won’t be able to escape an indictment.
Netanyahu seemed genuinely emotional. He may have realized, perhaps for the first time, the extent of the mess he is in.
No speech, as good as it may be, can rescue Netanyahu from the legal imbroglio he has gotten himself into. The police recommendations are firm, decisive and reasoned. Even if the two cases against him are combined into one case, even if Case 2000 is closed and Case 1000 is reduced from bribery suspicions to fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu won’t be able to completely escape an indictment.
Of the many details we have been exposed to, the most significant event seems to be Netanyahu's efforts to arrange tax breaks worth a lot of money for businessman Arnon Milchan. The police suspect, according to the summary of the investigation, that Netanyahu received benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from Milchan and tried to repay him with favors worth millions.
It’s hard to imagine what Netanyahu was thinking when he demanded, according to the police, the illicit gifts. Netanyahu, as we know, returned to the Prime Minister’s Residence after Ehud Olmert was forced to resign under similar criminal circumstances from his past, which came back to haunt him. Netanyahu, it seems, was more advanced: He wasn’t haunted by his past, but by new, serious, blatant acts, which mostly took place in the prime minister’s bureau.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s name was also mentioned in this part of the Milchan case. Lapid was summoned to testify in the case since he had served as finance minister during the relevant period. Likud Knesset members rushed to attack him (MK David Amsalem even called him a “snitch”). In some reports, Lapid was referred to as “the key witness” in the affair, but according to the police briefing, quite a few people witnessed Netanyahu's moves in favor of Milchan, including senior Finance Ministry employees.
The expected attacks on Lapid, which comes straight out of the Likud’s talking points, and the fact that his name has been mentioned as a witness for the prosecution, likely make him uncomfortable. For Lapid too, the recommendations have turned into an event that requires proper media management to prevent them from affecting the public popularity he has been enjoying up until now.
This raises the following question: How will the recommendations affect the political system? In the first stage, Netanyahu will try to get through the next few days, withstand the first wave of pressure and close ranks.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the weak link in the coalition, isn’t interested in elections. He came up with a strategy on the go (“I’m not a demolition contractor”) and would like to wait for the attorney general’s decision. The problem with this plan is that it doesn’t necessarily match Netanyahu's interests.
In the long run, Netanyahu can’t afford to sit down and wait for the attorney general’s decision. If the AG decides to indict him, it will be very hard for him to run an election campaign with such a cloud hanging over his head. If he does go to elections before the AG’s decision, he would be able to win, come back and tell the AG and the public: “You’ve seen it all, you’ve heard it all, you’ve reelected me—now stop bothering me with legal trivialities.”
Like in every political adventure, the maneuver won’t necessarily work in this case. Netanyahu's big problem is that evidence has rules of its own, and these rules are isolated from the voices outside, both those in favor of him and those against him.
In any event, the night of February 13, 2018 will possibly be remembered as the beginning of the political end of the best politician we ever had here: Benjamin Netanyahu.