Post-Bibi Possibilities

August 9, 2017
Sarah Benton

An Haaretz article on all the scandals about Netanyahu and a link to the Wikipedia page dedicated to the crimes and misdemeanours of Israeli public officials follow Plitnick’s article.

Former PM Ehmud Olmert, imprisoned for corruption,  with current PM. Pool photo by Motti Milrod.

The Fall of Netanyahu: Too Little, Too Late

By Mitchell Plitnick, Lobelog
August 07, 2017

It seems the long reign of Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to its end. Nothing is certain yet, and there will doubtless be more scenes in this tragedy before the curtain falls. But the prospects of Netanyahu continuing as Israel’s prime minister are growing dim.

More than a few are understandably celebrating the light at the end of the tunnel of Netanyahu’s tenure. And, unlike some, I would contend that Israelis have reason for optimism. But for those of us outside of Israel who support the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis and wish for all of those in the troubled region to enjoy equal rights, the fall of Netanyahu comes too late to make much difference.

In fact, it might set us back in some ways.

Who Comes Next?

Netanyahu is not required to step down from his office if he is indicted on any of the charges for which he is currently being investigated. But refusing to do so would put him in the middle of a political firestorm that would make it very difficult for him to do anything in office and also hurt his chances to avoid or at least sharply reduce any legal penalties he might face. Once his former chief of staff turned state’s evidence, an indictment became much more likely. Few Israelis believe Netanyahu’s pleas of innocence, according to recent polls. Netanyahu is very likely to be forced to resign and call for new elections, as his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did nearly a decade ago.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, 71, leaves the Maasyahu prison, on July 2, 2017. Photo by AFP

There are several possible scenarios for replacing Netanyahu. The most likely one is that the Likud Party retains control of the government with a new leader. Right now, Gideon Sa’ar, the former minister of education and minister of internal affairs under Netanyahu, is the most likely candidate to lead Likud. Sa’ar openly opposes a two-state solution and is vague on other options, voicing support for impossible solutions like a Palestinian confederation with Jordan.

Gideon Sa’ar’s comeback in Acre on April 03, 2017. Screen capture: Channel 2

Sa’ar is less passionate in his support for settlements than Netanyahu, although that could change if he comes to depend, as Netanyahu has, on more right-wing parties for his governing coalition. Sa’ar is seen as less hostile to democratic processes and institutions than Netanyahu, and he does not have the connections to the Republican Party in the US that Netanyahu does.

This amounts to an Israeli prime minister who would be less outrageous and very likely better for the country, even for Palestinian citizens of Israel, than Netanyahu. But prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough would remain bleak.

On that score, there is little space between Sa’ar and Netanyahu. The biggest difference would be that Sa’ar would, given his public persona, be less inclined to try to score political points by angering Europe and liberals in the United States. He would be much more likely to try to mend fences between Israel and the mainstream of the US Jewish community as well as with the Democratic Party.

That description also suits the new leader of Labour, Avi Gabbay. Gabbay has stated that he supports a two-state solution. But he also says that in such a solution, Israel must maintain control of the major settlement blocs as well as the Jordan Valley. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s also the position of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Despite the fact that Gabbay’s election energized the Labour Party—which had been projected as losing more than half its seats in polls conducted in the spring—polls continue to suggest that the Zionist Union, the coalition of which Labour is the vast majority, would lose seats in a new election.

But Gabbay is a wild card, and it’s certainly possible that he can present a good enough alternative to Likud to woo voters. Still, even if he does, a lot would have to go right for Labour to win an election, much less form a government. Since it will not bring the Joint List (which is itself experiencing upheaval these days) or its component Arab and non-Zionist parties into a coalition, Labour would have to convince not only rival centrists in Yesh Atid and Kulahnu to join it and Meretz.

It would need to find something like 20 to 25 Knesset seats from among the religious and centre-right parties, and that would either be impossible or require major concessions to the right. Should Yesh Atid win, a similar framework would be the outcome.

Back to Sheep’s Clothing

Gabbay, Sa’ar, or chairman of the Yesh Atid Party Yair Lapid would present a more moderate face internationally and domestically than Netanyahu does. That may be a double-edged sword, but it’s not without some potential benefits.

Even Sa’ar is pretty far from the kind of demagogue Netanyahu is. As prime minister he would, despite its being likely he would head a coalition leaning just as far to the right as the current one does, project a calmer and more rational image. That might, over a long enough period of time, have a calming effect on the Israeli public.

Lapid is a much more bombastic man, but he would necessarily lead a coalition much closer to the centre than Sa’ar would. Gabbay, as much of an unknown as he is, probably embodies the best of both: a sober individual who would lead a centrist coalition.

That matters. Israel’s slide away from democracy and into stronger nationalism has been unhealthy for everyone. It has not provided incentive for Israel to change its policies, but it has created an atmosphere where such change is riskier politically than ever. The true left in Israel has become more marginalized, the centre has moved distinctly to the right, and moderates in the centre-left are unable to articulate a political vision.

A less demagogic prime minister can change that, especially one leading a government that is not beholden to the far-right settler parties. But that holds its own kinds of dangers as well.

For over two decades, Israelis and Palestinians engaged in a peace process that was all process and no peace. One can discuss the failings of both sides in this, and there’s plenty to talk about. But there are two basic notions upon which those talks were based that were fatally flawed.

One was the idea that “only bilateral talks between the two parties can resolve the conflict.” Of course, this is true, but such “bilateral talks” cannot possibly work if there are no outside actors working to create conditions to correct the massive imbalance in power between Israel and the Palestinians. The other, related idea is that “Israel wants peace.” Again, that is true, but by itself, it’s an empty statement. Everyone wants peace: the question is what sacrifices and compromises they’re willing to make for it. The answer to that question is based not only on valuing peace but also on the political pressures promoting peace and the cost of not having it.

In Israel, domestic politics militate against peace. That’s not because Israelis are uniquely warlike, but because they have lived in perpetual fear for the country’s entire existence. A lot of that fear is the experience of war and terrorism, as well as the realities many Israelis confront when they meet, during their army service or any other time, the people living under their military occupation without civil, and often human, rights. A lot of it also comes from bombastic and threatening rhetoric from regional leaders and from the promotion of fear by their own leaders.

But whatever the sources, that fear creates a political aversion toward risk-taking for peace. That could be overcome, however, if there were reason to overcome it. The problem is that the occupation has become ridiculously cheap for Israel. Europe, the United States, and even other Arab states foot the bill to support the Palestinians, and the US shields Israel from most of the diplomatic consequences it might otherwise face.

Despite all, Israel remains a member of the community of nations

Despite the growth of the global movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel (BDS), Israel’s economy remains comparatively strong. Despite the horrifying siege of Gaza, and five decades of depriving Palestinians of basic rights, Israel remains a member of the community of nations. Indeed, a number of Arab countries, particularly the Gulf States, are trying hard to find ways to warm their relationships with Israel without triggering upheavals in their streets.

Reducing Pressure on Israel?

All of this becomes much more complicated with an Israeli leadership that is not so infuriating as Netanyahu has been. Under his leadership much of the mask of the occupation has come off, and not only in Gaza. His anti-democratic moves against Israeli civil society, his hubris directed toward Europe (Israel’s largest trading partner), and his deliberate alienation of the US Jewish community have all diminished Israel, even among those who, sadly, have been unmoved by Israel’s appalling treatment of the Palestinians.

Even Sa’ar, and certainly Gabbay, might be able to restore much of Israel’s positive image. That can be a good thing, but it can also lead to even more relaxation of the meagre pressures on Israel to grant Palestinians their rights. The last thing anyone needs after decades of inertia and more than eight years of Netanyahu is a resumption of a peace process façade.

The departure of Benjamin Netanyahu is a welcome event, and it should bring some positive change in Israel. But Netanyahu has already succeeded in killing any hope of a negotiated resolution any time soon. He has moved the goalposts and greatly increased the political danger for any Israeli leader who might suggest that Israel share Jerusalem, give up the Jordan Valley, or shrink, much less abandon, any large settlements that threaten the viability and contiguity of a potential Palestinian state.

Changing the course of the Israel-Palestine conflict has gone well beyond replacing Netanyahu. It may be a necessary first step, but his long tenure has robbed that step of most of its impact.

Mitchell Plitnick is former vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He is the former director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was previously the director of education and policy for Jewish Voice for Peace.

He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement.

Plitnick graduated with honours from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography and earned his Masters Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park’s School of Public Policy.

All the Scandals Involving Netanyahu, and Where They Stand

Confused by German subs, bribery suspicions and a trusted Netanyahu aide turned witness for the prosecution? Here’s a breakdown of each of the investigations

Judy Maltz, Ha’aretz opinion
August 07, 2017

It sometimes seems that for as long as he’s been in office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been under investigation for something or other. Never before, though, has he been this close to an indictment.

On Friday, a former Netanyahu aide signed an agreement to serve as state’s witness in two corruption cases involving the prime minister. In exchange for testifying against Netanyahu, American-born Ari Harow, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, will avoid jail time in a separate case.

A day earlier, police confirmed that Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases – one involving allegations that the prime minister and his family received gifts from wealthy benefactors and another involving allegations that he tried to cut a deal that would have provided him with favourable coverage in one of Israel’s largest newspapers.  The prime minister’s bureau has responded that the allegations are all “unfounded.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his then-bureau chief, Ari Harow, in 2008. Photo by Daniel Bar-On/Jini

It is widely assumed that Harow would not have been offered a state’s witness deal if police didn’t think he had valuable information to help strengthen their cases against Netanyahu.  In 2009, Harow served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief for a year. He returned in 2014 to serve as the prime minister’s chief of staff.  A year later, he was arrested by the national fraud squad on suspicions that he was maintaining a private lobbying business while serving in public office.

Under the state witness deal signed Friday, Harow will be convicted of fraud and breach of trust but will avoid jail time. Instead, he will perform community service and pay a 700,000 shekel ($193,000) fine.

Responding to the latest developments in the investigations against him in a Facebook video post on Friday, Netanyahu said, “I want to tell the citizens of Israel: I do not address background noises and I will continue to serve you.”

These are not the only investigations that could threaten Netanyahu’s extended reign of power. Here is a review of recent development in four separate corruption cases – dubbed “Case 1000,” “Case 2000,” “Case 3000,” and “Case 4000” – that could potentially bring him down.

James Packer, left, sits next to movie producer Arnon Milchan and listens to Benjamin Netanyahu address a joint meeting of Congress, March 3, 2015. Photo by AFP

Case 1000

This investigation involves allegations that Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their son Yair received lavish gifts from two wealthy businessman: Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. Netanyahu and his wife Sara allegedly received regular shipments of expensive cigars and champagne, worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, from Milchan. It has also been reported that Milchan bought Netanyahu’s wife an expensive piece of jewelry.

Netanyahu has insisted these gifts were nothing more than tokens of friendship and no favours were provided to Milchan in return. Packer has allegedly lavished gifts on Netanyahu’s son Yair, including free flights and hotel rooms.  Netanyahu, his wife and son – along along with Milchan and Packer – have all already been questioned by police in the case. Netanyahu was named a suspect on Thursday.

Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson (left) and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes. Cartoon by Amos Biderman

Case 2000

This probe involves allegations that Netanyahu tried to strike a deal that would have provided him with positive coverage in Israel’s second largest newspaper in exchange for hurting its freebie rival. The deal would have cut the circulation potential of Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper founded and financed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Since it was founded, Israel Hayom has replaced Yedioth Ahronoth as the country’s largest circulating newspaper.

Yedioth Ahronoth, unlike Israel Hayom, has long been critical of Netanyahu. Some of the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes were recorded on Harow’s smartphone, which was confiscated by police while they were investigating the other case against him. Harow is believed to have been intensely involved in the negotiations between Netanyahu and Mozes. His agreement to testify against Netanyahu, therefore, greatly strengthens the possibility of an indictment in this case.

Netanyahu has long claimed that he was not serious about the offer to Mozes and was simply trying to test the publisher. According to a Channel Two report broadcast this weekend, Adelson told Israeli police investigators last month that Netanyahu had tried to persuade him to withdraw plans for weekend supplements at Israel Hayom. That would indicate that Netanyahu was indeed intent upon reaching a deal with Mozes. Netanyahu was named a suspect in the case on Thursday.

The PM with his new toy the Rahav, the fifth submarine in Israel’s fleet, which arrived from Germany in January 2016. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO

Case 3000

Also known as the “Submarine Affair,” this corruption scandal involves allegations of bribery in a more-than-billion-dollar submarine deal between Israel and Germany. The prime minister is not a suspect in this case, but his personal lawyer, adviser and cousin is. ThyssenKrupp, the German shipbuilder, is represented in Israel by Michael Ganor, the key suspect in the affair. Alleged to have bribed high-ranking defense officials to advance the deal, Ganor signed an agreement two weeks ago to turn state’s evidence in the case. In exchange for testifying against other suspects, he will serve one year in prison and be fined 10 million shekels ($2.8 million). David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, adviser and cousin, also served as Ganor’s attorney.

Shimron was suspected of lobbying Israeli defence ministry officials on behalf of Ganor and ThyssenKrupp. Although he was put under house arrest last month, he was recently given special permission to take a family trip abroad. Israeli media have reported that Shimron stood to gain tens of millions of shekels from the submarine deal, which has since been suspended. Shimron denied the report.

Former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon told police that Netanyahu tried to facilitate the deal with ThyssenKrupp by urging the cancellation of a previous tender for the submarines issued by the Defense Ministry.. He has also accused Netanyahu of purchasing more submarines than the Defense Ministry deemed necessary. Netanyahu has denied these allegations. Half a dozen suspects have been detained in this case, among them the former commander of the Israeli navy, Vice Admiral (res.) Eliezer Marom.

Case 4000

Also known as the “Bezeq affair,” this is the latest corruption scandal to plague Netanyahu. It began with a special state comptroller report, published last month, on the problematic relationship between the Communications Ministry and Bezeq, Israel’s telecom giant. The report found that Shlomo Filber, director general of the Communications Ministry and former top aide to Netanyahu, had been providing Bezeq with confidential documents and other information from which it stood to benefit. Netanyahu had brought Filber to the Ministry of Communications after he fired Avi Berger, his predecessor at the job. Berger had been trying to advance a broadband reform that would have hurt Bezeq.

The State Comptroller report also found that while serving in his capacity as communications minister (Netanyahu holds various ministerial portfolios), the prime minister had not disclosed, as required, his friendship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq. This disclosure was required since Netanyahu, in his capacity as communications minister, had the power to shape policy in a way that could benefit Bezeq. Although Netanyahu has not been named a suspect in this case, Filber has been put under house arrest and was suspended from his job.


See List of Israeli public officials convicted of crimes or misdemeanours

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