Indictment in Israel

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a meeting of the right-wing bloc at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. AFP

With governance in limbo, Israel plunged deeper into the mire on Thursday with the indictment of Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

It is a damning setback for the prime minister as he fights for his political survival.

Though the country is gearing up for an unprecedented third election in the span of a year, the dire predicament of Netanyahu has doubtless made the waters murkier still.

The status of the settlements on the West Bank is unlikely to bear on the hustings, whatever the likes of US President Donald Trump might contend.

It will be hard for the Likud party to dispel the dominant impression that the country has been helmed by a leader accused of corruption for as long as it was.

Netanyahu has been charged in all three major corruption cases for which he was investigated, the first time in Israel that a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime.

In the 63-page indictment, Netanyahu was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury gifts from billionaire friends and for trading valuable favours with Israeli media and telecom moguls for positive news coverage, an almost incredible instance of news being paid for by the head of government.

“A day in which the attorney- general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day for the Israeli public and for me personally,” was the immediate response of Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general.

With the prospect of continuing as prime minister wholly uncertain, Netanyahu’s political career will now be increasingly open to question.

The political pressure from his opponents could indeed be ratcheted up, not least because he faces multiple explosive court cases that could drag on for years.

Thursday’s dramatic indictment, the culmination of three years of investigations, comes at a desperately fraught juncture for Israel’s longest-serving leader.

For the past months, Netanyahu has been desperately trying to remain in power after having failed to secure a clear win in two elections this year.

He now has his back to the wall, helming an administration that must be less than a lame duck arrangement.

“These are harsh, dark days in the annals of the state of Israel,” President Reuven Rivlin said hours before the indictment, adding that the country found itself in a “miserable political situation”.

Since he returned to power in 2009, Netanyahu has managed to keep his party loyal, although cracks have begun to show.

The plot thickens in a volatile part of the world.

The Statesman (India)/Asia News Network