The ballot box that will judge Netanyahu’s political future is presenting for readers a series of observations by noted researcher Gabriel Haritos broadly entitled “The Israeli Parliamentary Elections of September 17, 2019, and the Greek Regional Factor.”

These studies will be featured, over the days leading up to the election. We have already published two pieces by Gabriel Haritos “Ethiopian PM’s visit to Israel a boost for Netanyahu“, and “Israeli Parliamentary Elections: Fermentations and collaborations going ahead“. Today we present the next piece entitled: The ballot box that will judge Netanyahu’s political future. 

Gabriel Haritos, Ph.D., Researcher, The Ben Gurion Reserach Institute, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Senior Fellow, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs, 

The ballot box that will judge Netanyahu’s political future

Both in the pre-election period of April 9, 2019 and in the current election, the dominant question is whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been actively involved in financial and business scandals that have plagued Israel for the past five years. A few days before the April 9 elections, the Commissioner in charge of deciding whether to prosecute a government official announced his findings through which the cases under investigation were not placed in the archives and the Israeli Prime Minister is referred to justice – provided he hands over explanatory notes on the findings. If the explanations are inadequate, Netanyahu will be brought to trial.

During the previous election period (December 2018-April 2019), the main point of political controversy focused on the one hand, on what the actual content of the Legal Commissioner’s conclusion would be, and on the other (if the finding would confirm the existence of indications of the implication of Prime Minister Netanyahu) if he would eventually be able to maintain the ‘moral advantage’ and continue to lead his party and therefore if it were ethical to again run for the post of prime minister. Finally, the Legal Commissioner, not wishing to be seen as delaying deliberately in order to not handicap Netanyahu’s and Likud center-right party’s campaign, announced his conclusions on 28 February 2019, a few days before the official beginning of the pre-election period. The fact that he had set out the process for Netanyahu to provide an “explanation” essentially delayed the substantive examination of the cases under investigation beyond the April 2019 elections. According to Israeli legal procedure, the “explanatory document” procedure ‘, is set for October 2019, and if Netanyahu is brought to trial, then the court ruling that will opine on his guilt or innocence irrevocably will be given, at soonest within the next three years.

As it turned out afterward, the announcement of the Legal Commissioner’s conclusion was a pyrrhic victory for Netanyahu’s political opponents. The opposition rhetoric in the run-up to the April 2019 election had focused on attacking Netanyahu’s personality and his family. As a result, the opposition forces did not sufficiently promote the political program they would have implemented if they had assumed power. On the other hand, the content of the Legal Commissioner’s conclusion and the time given to the Prime Minister (who is not yest under indictment) essentially weakened the personality-focused opposition pre-election rhetoric, on a communication level, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the opposition’s campaign. In any event, this was also shown by the election results, and most notably by the extensive concentration of Likud’s votes, bringing Netanyahu and the other smaller right-wing parties backing him to the lead. At the same time, Likud party officials and local party mechanisms supported Netanyahu and those close to him, arguing that “nothing has yet been proven in the courtrooms”, and that it was an orchestrated smear campaign. This explains the unprecedented coalescence of Likud voters during last April’s run-off. Specifically, while Likud won 985,405 votes in the 2015 election, the party garnered 1,140,370 votes in the April 9, 2019 election – an additional 154,962 votes, marking the best election performance in Party history.

The polarized climate around the question of ‘whether Netanyahu is corrupt or not’ was a unique phenomenon in the country’s political history, and rightly Benjamin Netanyahu, immediately after the announcement of the election results, had triumphantly stated that he, personally, and his alliance registered ‘a huge victory’. However, the weeks that followed proved that his own ‘huge’ victory was just as pyrrhic as the clashes between him and his once-loyal political partner, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Israeli party. Our Home ”(“ Israel Beitenu ”) – proved to be insurmountable.

The truth is, that during the current election period, the noise about Netanyahu’s honesty or not has dropped significantly. While the judicial investigation of the cases pending against him is taking its course, Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers appear to make use of every right conferred on them by the existing procedural provisions, giving the impression that they intend to delay the progress of the proceedings. It is a common secret that Netanyahu would prefer to offer any explanations after the new government is formed – and therefore not next October, but as late as possible. However, the systematic attempt by his legal representatives to put forward all sorts of pretexts, reaching the point of delaying their appearances at the offices of the Legal Commissioner in order to receive the files containing the preliminary investigation material, effectively detracting from Netanyahu’s credibility in the eyes. of his constituents. On the other hand, given current polls, his popularity has not been damaged.

Today, the only major party that maintains its cohesion is Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu. But no one can predict what will happen when the ‘Netanyahu era’ actually ends. A possible defeat in the forthcoming elections is likely to spark debate about his succession. Until then, however, Netanyahu’s position on the Likud party mechanism remains unchallenged, despite the presence of multiple hopeful successors – who for the time being are still refraining from even voiving their leadership aspirations.