If lawyers for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu don’t waive his right to a pre-indictment hearing at the last minute, in two weeks, when they come to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s office, their prominent client’s situation will be very serious. Just after this year’s first Knesset election in April, when the prime minister had the feeling that he had won by a knockout and that the path to a government would provide him with immunity from prosecution, Netanyahu told close associates that the results of that election were proof that the masses, who were aware of the detailed suspicions of criminal wrongdoing against him, had rejected them and fully backed him. (Live election results - click here)
“That’s democracy,” he told the associates, as he laid out his plans for survival.
If in the 2015 election Netanyahu held the view that he had beaten his real rival, Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, it was Attorney General Mendelblit whom he felt he had defeated in the April election this year, and particularly the prosecutors who drafted the devastating indictment against him, dragging Mendelblit, as he sees it, into deciding to file the charges, subject to a hearing.
The results of this week’s second round of elections reminded Netanyahu something he had long forgotten: The limits of power. The public did not give him a mandate to use political power to evade a trial and to destroy the High Court of Justice.
Now he is in Mendelblit’s hands and can no longer snap the whip of destruction at the judicial system. If following the April election, Justice Ministry staff spoke privately about possibly saving the justice system in exchange for lenience for Netanyahu, these voices fell silent on election night Tuesday. In the coming weeks, the attorney general intends to speed up the process of deciding whether to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery and breach of trust, coming to a decision on an indictment shortly after the pre-indictment hearing which is to begin on October 2.
It can be assumed that senior prosecution staffers have freed up their schedules for marathon meetings on the case until the gong sounds. Mendelblit said he would hear out Netanyahu’s lawyers with an open mind. But the suspicions against Netanyahu will probably not be dramatically altered by the hearing. Mendelblit sees Netanyahu in an entirely different light now than the forgiving and admiring way he viewed him when the former military prosecutor became attorney general in 2016. In conversations with senior members of Mendelblit’s office, the attorney general has described the prime minister as someone deeply tainted by government corruption who allegedly took advantage of his connections with wealthy people to obtain a variety of benefits in exchange for which he rewarded one of then, Bezeq telecommunications mogul Shaul Elovitch, with “interests worth billions,” as Mendelblit put it.
The fact that the entire senior level of the state prosecutor’s office identified the case of Netanyahu’s ties to Elovitch, Case 4000, as a bribery case shows that it is very unlikely that the matter – involving alleged favorable coverage of the prime minister on Bezeq’s Walla news site in exchange for favorable government regulatory policy towards Bezeq – would be dropped after the hearing.
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