Saturday, Dec 14, 2019 | Last Update : 06:35 PM IST

Defiant Netanyahu rejects graft indictment, vows to stay Israel's leader

AFP
Published : Nov 22, 2019, 9:22 am IST
Updated : Nov 22, 2019, 9:22 am IST

Netanyahu denounced what he called 'false' and 'politically motivated' allegations, after being charged with bribery, fraud.

Netanyahu could now face internal threats from within his Likud party, Zalzberg added. (Photo: File)
 Netanyahu could now face internal threats from within his Likud party, Zalzberg added. (Photo: File)

Jerusalem: A defiant Benjamin Netanyahu rejected all allegations of graft Thursday, vowing to stay on as leader in Israel despite being indicted on a series of corruption charges.

Netanyahu denounced what he called the "false" and "politically motivated" allegations, hours after being charged by the attorney general with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. "What is going on here is an attempt to stage a coup against the prime minister," Netanyahu said.

"The object of the investigations was to oust the right wing from government."

In a 15-minute speech, Netanyahu railed against his political rivals and state institutions, accusing the police and judiciary of bias. The veteran politician argued that it was time for an "investigation of the investigators".

He vowed to continue as prime minister despite potential court dates and intense political pressure. "I will continue to lead this country, according to the letter of the law," he said.

"I will not allow lies to win."

The indictment comes as Israel faces a potential third election in a year, with neither Netanyahu nor his main rival able to form a government after deadlocked elections in September.

Netanyahu is not legally required to resign until he is convicted and all appeals are exhausted, but political pressure is likely to be intense.

A close ally of US President Donald Trump, the 70-year-old may now ask the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, to grant him immunity from prosecution. The justice ministry statement said copies of the charge sheet had been sent to both Netanyahu's lawyers and the Knesset.

The charges against him range from receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars to a deal to change regulatory frameworks in favour of a media group in exchange for positive coverage.

Mandelblit is due to give a public statement, with Netanyahu expected to respond.

Netanyahu has outlived most political rivals and Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the indictment may still not be "the end of the story".

"Israel will now have to brace for a political roller-coaster ride over the coming months. Now more than ever Netanyahu will be fighting for his political and personal life," said Lovatt.

What are the allegations?

In February, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, following up on police recommendations. In May, he extended until October a deadline for Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing but rejected a request for a 12-month delay.

Netanyahu has vehemently denied all the allegations, calling the corruption investigation a "witch-hunt" and alleging it has been motivated by his enemies' desire to force him from office.

Of the investigations against Netanyahu, the third, known as Case 4,000, is seen as the most serious. He is alleged to have negotiated with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecommunications giant Bezeq, to get positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefiting Bezeq.

Mandelblit said in February he intended to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in this case.

Case 1,000 involves allegations Netanyahu and his family received gifts including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery from wealthy individuals, estimated to be worth more than 700,000 shekels ($200,000, 185,000 euros), in exchange for financial or personal favours.

Another case, known as Case 2000, concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with the owner of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that would have seen it give him more favourable coverage.

'Weaker hand'

The decision is expected to have a wide-reaching impact not just on the embattled leader but on Israeli politics in general, as the country has been without a government for nearly a year due to political infighting.

Neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz have been able to form a coalition government following deadlocked elections in September, with the country edging closer to a third election within twelve months.

Earlier Thursday Israel's President Reuven Rivlin turned to the country's parliament in the hope of avoiding a third election in 12 months.

Following the near neck-and-neck polls in September Netanyahu and Gantz were given four weeks each to try and form a new government.

Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, was given first go but failed. And Gantz, who leads the Blue and White coalition, admitted defeat late Wednesday after a similar period.

Rivlin has now given parliament 21 days to find a candidate who can command the support of the majority of the country's 120 MPs.

Gantz reportedly tried to woo MP's from Netanyahu's Likud party to join him in a broad national unity government, but there were no takers during the long and ultimately fruitless coalition negotiations following the September election.

Ofer Zalzberg, analyst with the International Crisis Group think-tank, said Netanyahu would be severely weakened by Mandelblit's announcement.

"Netanyahu has a weaker hand for the coming 20 days so may agree to compromises toward Blue and White he so far ruled out," he said.

Netanyahu could now face internal threats from within his Likud party, Zalzberg added.

Tags: israel, benjamin netanyahu, corruption, donald trump
Location: Israel, Jerusalem