Prosecution not impressed by Netanyahu’s defense

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In the first day of hearings, prime minister Netanyahu’s defense team presented some new evidence to the prosecution, only to discover that Attorney General Mendelblit and his team were already up-to-date. Meanwhile, the formation of the new Israeli government is facing issues due to Netanyahu’s potential indictment.

The first day of pre-indictment hearings lasted an impressive 11 hours before the Justice Ministry called it a day. At the heart of this extended exposé by the Israeli prime minister’s defense team lies a series of ‘new’ pieces of evidence that were presented to Attorney General Mendelblit and the prosecution. Defense laywer Amit Hadad stated: “We are surprising them with new legal arguments and perspectives on the facts in dispute.”

In a later statement however, that same prosecution appeared not to be surprised at all and, in fact, seemed to be familiar with the provided information and evidence. It is as of yet unclear to what extent this will influence Netanyahu’s position during the hearings. According to defense lawyer Yossi Ashkenazi “Mendelblit listened intently” to the defense’s statement and proceeded to have a pleasant, but thorough back-and-forth during which he gave feedback on the information shared with him.

Harsh language, realistic actions

Both Hadad and Ashkenazi expressed strong conviction about all the charges eventually being dropped completely, but due to the nature and severity of the accusations, this seems improbable. Likely, the defense team’s ultimate goal is to mitigate the charges and not erase them entirely. The possibility of a plea bargain has already been wiped of the table by the defense and both lawyers refused to reply if maybe a reduction of the charges in question was the best option they had.

If Mendelblit would drop case 2000 and reduce case 4000 to a mere ‘breach of trust’ instead of bribery, that would immensely improve Netanyahu’s situation. However, the PM has a bit of a history of publicly attacking some of the Ministry Officials. Defense lawyer Ram Caspi tried to get on the prosecution’s good side by stating: “I have complete faith not only in the legal establishment in Israel, but also in those who stand at its head. I have no doubt that during the hearing, the Attorney General will form his recommendations in a professional and thorough manner while disregarding the background noise, the protests and media pressure. I treat these hearings with the utmost importance.”

Political repercussions

Since Mendelblit’s final decision on Netanyahu’s potential indictment will emerge during the negotiations to form a new Israeli government, it will heavily influence these discussions and also the eventual choice of the new prime minister. Acting speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, has already stated that Netanyahu could take an open-ended leave of absence, as such showing that he is “prepared to pay the price to establish a government.”

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin already proposed a unity government in which power would be divided equally among Gantz’s Blue and White Party and Netanyahu’s Likud and in which they would each serve two years as PM. Should Netanyahu be indicted and take a leave of absence, Gantz would automatically inherit all prime ministerial authority as “interim prime minister”. This would resolve Gantz’s refusal to serve in a cabinet with a PM under indictment. However, both parties have failed to reach an agreement on who would be PM first in such an arrangement.

In any case, a third election would be destructive for Netanyahu’s career since there’s a good chance that, under these circumstances, Likud could decide to drop him in order to save face. Until now, Netanyahu has not yet joined his defense team during the pre-indictment hearings and it’s unclear if he will do so in the coming days.