Israel's Netanyahu to face indictment hearing after polls

Israel's Netanyahu to face indictment hearing after polls
Israel's prime minister is due to face hearings 'before July 10,' the justice ministry said in a statement.

4 min read
12 March, 2019
Netanyahu will face a hearing after polls to defend himself against corruption allegations [AFP]
Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will face a hearing after polls to defend himself against corruption allegations which have dogged his election campaign, the justice ministry said on Monday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit last month announced his intention to indict the premier on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, following up on police recommendations.

But before formally bringing charges against the longtime premier, Mandelblit said there will be a hearing in which Netanyahu will be given the chance to defend himself.

"The hearings shall take place before July 10," the justice ministry said in a statement which told the relevant parties to prepare.

The investigation files will be made available to lawyers on April 10, the day after elections, ruling out the possibility of a hearing taking place before the polls.

If Netanyahu is re-elected and goes on to be charged, he will become the first Israeli premier to serve under indictment.

The prime minister has blamed his political opponents for what he called a "witch-hunt" intended to force him from office - though he appointed Mandelblit as attorney general.

The allegations against Netanyahu involve gifts such as pricey cigars and champagne, as well as positive media coverage in exchange for changes to existing regulations.

A month ahead of elections, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party stands in second place in opinion polls, behind the centrist Blue and White alliance.

The latter is led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid, but even if it gains the most seats it is unclear if it would be able to form a coalition.

Netanyahu, in full campaign mode ahead of April 9 polls, said Israel "was not a state of all its citizens" in a reference to the country's Palestinian population.

The prime minister, in comments on Instagram earlier this week, went on to say all citizens, including Palestinians, had equal rights, but referred to a deeply controversial law passed last year declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.

"Israel is not a state of all its citizens," Netanyahu wrote in response to comments from an Israeli actress.

"According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people - and only it.

"As you wrote, there is no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel. They have equal rights like all of us and the Likud government has invested more in the Arab sector than any other government," he said of his right-wing party.

As the comments caused waves in Israel, Netanyahu again spoke of the issue at the start of a cabinet meeting, making similar comments.

He called Israel a "Jewish, democratic state" with equal rights, but "the nation-state not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people".

Israel's parliament last year adopted a law defining the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people, to wide condemnation from those fearing it could lead to blatant discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Arab lawmakers and Palestinians called the law "racist" and said it legalised "apartheid".

Netanyahu has been accused of demonising Israeli Arabs, who make up some 17.5 percent of the population, ahead of April polls in a bid to boost right-wing turnout.

He has continually warned that his opponents will receive the support of Arab parties and that they will make significant concessions to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, under threat of indictment for corruption, is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid.

The alliance's centrist positions and its security credentials - it includes three former military chiefs of staff - have helped it beat back Netanyahu's claims that its leaders are "weak" leftists.

Arab parties would be extremely unlikely to be part of any coalition government after elections.

Palestinian Israelis remained on their land after the violent 1948 creation of Israel and are supportive of the Palestinian cause.

Netanyahu leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel's history and says he wants a similar coalition after the upcoming polls.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab