The Netanyahu debacle continues in Israel, as the PM is on trial for corruption and in the fifth round of trying to form a government, meaning tat Israel has now gone two years without an actual elected leadership.
In less than a week, Netanyahu has twice attempted to subvert the rule of law to his advantage and pivoted, at the speed of light, to deflect responsibility for the nation’s worst civilian disaster — the fatal stampede at a Galilean religious pilgrimage in which 100,000 worshipers gathered, with no permit but with the permission of Netanyahu’s government, in a spot the size of a small park.
Israel has been without a functional government for more than two years. During this time, the country was dragged through four general election campaigns in which Netanyahu failed to win enough votes to form a stable governing coalition — but succeeded in preventing anyone else from doing so each time.
Stuck in political purgatory, Israel has no budget, and it’s at risk of losing its international credit ratings. The Knesset is not operational, with the prime minister’s allies scrambling to reshape every rule and motion into a parachute that will save his political life. And the cabinet is incapacitated.
The crux of the problem for Netanyahu is that he is on trial, accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. On April 5, the first day of witness testimony, Netanyahu slammed Israel’s judiciary, calling the proceedings “an abuse of the destructive power held by the prosecution.”
“This is what the illegitimate use of power looks like,” the prime minister thundered. “This is how you try to topple a strong right-wing prime minister! This is what an attempted coup looks like!”
But it is Netanyahu who seeks to perpetrate a coup — even as he has effectively given up on governing.
By coincidence, his trial started on the same day President Reuven Rivlin invited Netanyahu, whose Likud party won 30 of 120 Knesset seats in the most recent election, to establish a government. The math meant Rivlin had no choice, but he didn’t hide his disgust.
Netanyahu has until Tuesday to come up with a coalition. If he fails, Rivlin may call on the opposition leader to try, but Netanyahu is attempting to stymie that possibility and lead Israel to a fifth round of elections, entrenching Israel’s leadership crisis — and, crucially, preserving his position as caretaker prime minister for a few months more.
With that goal still out of reach, he is instead floating an outlandish proposal — to partially cancel the results of the March 23 election, detaching the party vote for Knesset from the vote for prime minister. This would allow him, personally, to run again for reelection with no parliamentary majority, in an alternative Israel in which he can change election laws on a whim. Mid-game, he’s asking for a mulligan.
Meanwhile, spooked by his trial and by the looming deadline, Netanyahu last week forced an illegal vote through his cabinet, “appointing” a political lackey justice minister. The point of this maneuver was to enable Ofir Akunis, currently the minister for regional cooperation, to control the appointment of a new state prosecutor, one of many essential jobs left empty by Israel’s political limbo. Netanyahu’s interest in imposing his will on the state prosecution needs no explanation. The full slate of Likud ministers, who like their leader no longer pretend to govern, ignored the attorney general’s exclamations about the illegality of the stunt and voted like automatons to confirm Akunis.
Among the state affairs that fell through the cracks was an urgently needed overhaul of services provided to wounded military veterans. The issue gained prominence after Itzik Saidian, a 26-year-old disabled veteran who fought in the 2014 war in Gaza, set himself on fire outside Israeli army headquarters April 13, the day before Israel’s Memorial Day.
No resolution is on the horizon. The cabinet was due to discuss the proposal last week, when the cabinet meeting was hijacked by Netanyahu’s unlawful attempt to install a vassal justice minister. It was rescheduled for a vote at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but instead of leading his cabinet in mourning, Netanyahu canceled the meeting, saying he did it out of respect for those killed in the stampede.
Netanyahu is essentially pulling Trump's staying in power coup in a parliamentarian-style democracy, and it's working. As long as Netanyahu has enough allies to keep the opposition from ever forming a government, then he can stay in power semi-permanently.
The major wrench in the works is the trial. That's the one thing that he hasn't been able to stop so far and if he's convicted, all hell will break loose.
We'll see where this goes.