Just days after he began a new term in office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been put on trial in Jerusalem accused of Bribery, fraud, and a breach of public trust, as part of three cases formally known as ‘1,000’, ‘2,000’ and ‘4,000’.
The seventy year old is the first standing leader to face trial in the country’s history after he was sworn back into office as head of a rare unity government a week ago alongside his political rival, Benny Gantz. Both parties came to this unlikely and unprecedented agreement after three inconclusive elections in under a year.
Benjamin Netanyahu is a veteran and political beast of Israel having led The Likud Party – (The National Liberal Movement) between 1993-1999 and again from 2005 til present day. Furthermore he has also served as the Prime Minister of Israel from 1996-1999 and again from 2006 til present day. After arriving at the courthouse for a brief hearing on May 24th, Netanyahu said the trial was a ‘witch-hunt’ created by his political opponents which were aimed at ‘toppling him in any way possible’. He went on to say:
‘I’m here with a straight back and my head held high. When you need to take me down, a strong prime minister from the right, everything is possible’.
So what is Benjamin Netanyahu being accused of?
Mr Netanyahu has been indicted in three cases, formally known as 1,000, 2,000 and 4,000:
- Case 1,000 – Fraud and breach of trust: he is accused of receiving gifts- (mainly cigars and bottles of champagne) – from powerful businessmen in exchange for political and economic favours.
- Case 2,000 – Fraud and breach of trust: Netanyahu is accused of offering to help improve the circulation of Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot in exchange for positive coverage.
- Case 4,000 – Bribery, fraud and breach of trust: as PM and minister of communications at the time of the alleged offence, Mr Netanyahu is accused of promoting regulatory decisions favourable to the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage by Mr Elovitch’s Walla news site.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid called the trial “an embarrassment” and “horrible for the spirit of the nation”, concluding that the Prime Minister must step down from the country’s highest office while he attempts to clear his name.
Despite these calls to resign, there is no constitutional law which states an Israeli Prime Minister must resign while facing trial. This lack of legal clarity is largely owing to the lack of relevant historical precedent. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stepped down as party leader, when he was under investigation for corruption in 2008, but remained Prime Minister until the 2009 elections which removed him from office. The current power-sharing deal with Gantz has also seen the creation of “alternate prime minister” role. This means that the two men will switch positions every 18 months’ and as such Netanyahu will still remain in office in the short-term. Netanyahu will also not be constitutionally required to resign until any appeals are exhausted even if convicted. This means that an eventual outcome to the entire trial may only be decided many months or years into the future with Netanyahu unlikely to start serving his sentence until long in the future if convicted. This is likely, considering Prime Minister Olmert only started serving his sentence in 2016, after he was finally convicted in 2009.
This trial therefore looks unlikely to change or disrupt current Government policy. Netanyahu is likely to press ahead with plans to annex Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, territory in the Israeli occupied and heavily disputed West Bank, in the coming months. This controversial move is almost certain to infuriate the Palestinians and damage Israeli-Palestinian relations.