About a week ago, a reader wrote to me that we should have good cheer: things were looking so bad, politically, that they were bound to start looking up.
I appreciated the optimism, for I try to hold on to that attitude myself. The problem, however, is that things have gotten worse!
We will get where we need to go.
We must! But it’s going to be a difficult and challenging month.
There was no way to say that what happened last week was a surprise; yet until the moment that it actually did happen, the right retained a hope that perhaps it would not:
On Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced intent to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu on three separate charges involving corruption.
There are a couple of significant points to note upfront about this announcement:
First, is the fact that what he actually announced is intent, not an indictment.
The indictment, which is a formal charge that would lead to a trial, cannot take place until there is a court hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed.
Netanyahu has said he will be bringing witnesses that the prosecutor’s office never interviewed. His lawyers will be present and have already declared that they believe two of the three cases are dead on arrival, while the third one is without legal precedent.
Last week, Prof. Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer of enormous repute not known as a particular friend of Netanyahu’s, wrote an open letter to Mandelblit advising him not to proceed. The cases against Netanyahu, says Dershowitz, present “dangers to democratic governance and civil liberties…
“To bring down a duly elected prime minister on the basis of an expansive and unprecedented application of a broad and expandable criminal statute endangers democracy.”
I would like to provide one example here: Netanyahu is being accused of doing favors for friends who brought him expensive cigars and champagne over the course of ten years.
Dershowitz argues: “The accusation is that Netanyahu took too many such gifts and made too many favors in return. But how many are too many? The law doesn’t say…no one should be charged with a crime unless he has willfully crossed a bright line and plainly violated a serious criminal statute.” (Emphasis added here and above.)
Distinguished legal expert Dershowitz would never say this in quite these terms, but I will: These are nonsense charges.
Unfortunately, once intent was announced, most people thought an indictment had been levied and that a trial was going to follow. Much of the media has been less than helpful in clarifying the situation.
And this leads to the second problem, which is a major one: the hearing will not take place until after the election! Netanyahu will not have the opportunity to attempt to vindicate himself before the election.
The entire question of timing is of major significance: Investigations regarding Netanyahu have been on-going for three years! Three years! The prosecution argues that due process is operating on a schedule that is separate from the political calendar: that is, they say the announcement of intent came in a timely matter with regard to the unfolding of the legal process and has nothing to do with the timing of the election.
But consider the timing: the announcement of intent came only weeks before the election, but not sufficiently before to allow for the hearing to be held pre-election. A last minute appeal by Likud that the announcement of intent be delayed until after the election since the hearing won’t be held before was rejected.
To many, myself included, all of this smells of a political setup designed to weaken if not take down Binyamin Netanyahu.
Astute political commentator Daniel Greenfield observed (emphasis added):
“The baseless indictment [sic] of Prime Minister Netanyahu weeks before Israel’s election is a desperate stunt by the country’s institutional Deep State Left. Israel’s law enforcement is a leftist boy’s club and had been desperately seeking to indict Netanyahu and his wife on something, anything, for years, with multiple investigations underway into everything…
“Gantz and Lapid, two leftists running under the guise of a fake third party that is really just Labor with a new coat of paint, look like the Left’s best shot to replace Israel’s conservative government. And sell out the country to the terrorists all over again.”
The glee of Gantz’s Blue and White party was only partially suppressed. Here was their chance: they might win the election not because they are able to present superior positions but rather because Netanyahu has been weakened. Gantz did not delay long before calling on the prime minister to resign.
“You chose your benefit over that of the country. That is a bad decision.”
Gideon Sa’ar, who is in fourth place on the Likud list, promptly and appropriately responded in a tweet:
“The demand from Gantz that Netanyahu should resign is a violation of the right to due process that also applies to the Prime Minister as a citizen of this country. The right to due process and the presumption of innocence are an important part of the law. It is too bad that Gantz was unable to surpass political considerations.” (Emphasis added)
Sa’ar’s position is indeed correct. Yet unease within the electorate in response to the announcement of intent to indict was considerable.
Likud very quickly slipped in the polls so that it was suddenly tied with Blue and White or one mandate behind, whereas only days earlier it had been way ahead.
This was troubling, but only mildly so, because it was still the right wing and not the left that would be able to form a coalition – and that in the end is what matters.
But then numbers in the polls shifted again, indicating that Blue and White was considerably ahead and that Likud would not be able to form a coalition.
Uh oh! This seemed really troubling.
The prospect of Gantz as prime minister is not to be contemplated: he tilts left, has demonstrated vile character with his attack on Netanyahu, has not advanced a genuine platform and has absolutely no civilian political or diplomatic experience.
At the end of the day, it indeed is the country that matters — but putting the country first means determining the best way to insure that Gantz and company do not win the election.
The case for Netanyahu’s stepping down is, I believe, a weak one and not an option that I would find acceptable for several reasons:
 We still have a month to go before the elections, and a month is a long time with regard to Israeli campaigns. Who knows what will happen before April 9. Many believe, I among them, that the polls, which are notoriously inaccurate in any event, will bounce back in Likud’s favor in short order. Polls respond to an event of the moment and then tend to even out again.
As I write, in fact, I am seeing an encouraging shift (see below for more on this).
 There are no guarantees that Netanyahu stepping down would increase the Likud numbers, because there are those within the electorate who adore Bibi and would cast their vote for Likud only because of him. Absent Bibi at the head of Likud, they might shift to Gantz.
 Falling into the trap of the leftist legal establishment feels less than honorable. It means that Bibi has been “had.” Even if one has been of the opinion that it was time for the prime minister to step down, pushing him out in this fashion is not the way to go. Indeed, he has every right to be considered innocent at this point.
This is what Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said when questioned about asking Netanyahu to step down now:
“If he really knows he is not to blame for anything and wants to continue doing his job … I want to ask you, how I am supposed to feel if I now, as speaker of the Knesset, say to him, ‘Go home,’ and later it turns out he was innocent?”
The best way to insure that Gantz does not become prime minister is for everyone who had intended, prior to Mandelblit’s announcement, to vote for Likud do so, or, at least vote for one of the other right wing parties – the New Right or the combined list of Bayit Yehudi-National Union. People who had intended to vote for Likud should think very hard indeed about the consequences of switching over to Blue and White.
I suspect that several of the factors I have discussed above are not commonly known or understood, and so I urge all of my readers to share this post very broadly.
The intricacies of the campaign and the theories about what will transpire are far too complex and ephemeral for me to deal with here in detail. And so, I touch just a few bases:
Most importantly: Below is a poll just released by Miskar Institute. Some 4,500 people across Israel were polled. What we see is Likud running one mandate ahead of Blue and White, and probably having sufficient mandates to establish a coalition. Hopefully, this is a trend and it will get even better.
 According to most analyses of the data, it would be possible for Blue and While to form a coalition only if the Arab bloc were included. This is something that has never happened in Israel’s history, and Blue and White leaders have said they would not under any circumstances enfold the Arabs because they are not Zionists. There is however some sort of a “technical bloc” that would include the Arabs that is being vaguely discussed. (If Likud’s numbers continue to go up, even this might become moot.)
 I seriously doubt that the Haredi parties would ever leave the right bloc for Blue and White because of antipathy to that party’s Yair Lapid with regard to his position on the draft.
 Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, may not cross the threshold. There is some question, as well, about Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, which is fairly centrist but would join a Likud coalition.
This is why there was so much talk about merging lists, to avoid loss of votes as may ensue here.
There is a system for arranging for the sharing of surplus votes that would mitigate some of the losses. We can come to this when the election gets closer.
 It should be noted that while Otzma has joined the list of Bayit Yehudi-National Union, it is a technical merger only and they will split off after elections. While it is a given that Bayit Yehudi-National Union would be part of a Likud coalition, this is not a certainty with Otzma. (They pride themselves on not compromising on their positions and may be reluctant for the compromises required in a coalition agreement.)
Beyond this: I repeat my mantra: STAY TUNED.
Just a couple of other important news briefs:
A terror attack took place in the pre-dawn hours today (Monday) outside of the Arab village of N’ima, northwest of Ramallah. Soldiers had conducted an arrest operation in the village; on leaving, their vehicle broke down and they got out. That is when a car rammed into them, seriously injuring an IDF officer and lightly wounding a border guard. Two terrorists were shot and killed and a third was lightly wounded.
Members of the village claimed it was just an accident, as the road there is narrow. However, the three assailants had earlier thrown firebombs at the IDF troops and additional Molotov cocktails were found in their vehicle.
Last week the NYTimes reported that the Trump “peace plan” includes a projected $25 billion to be given to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza, most of it to be raised from Arab states. This is in line with everything we’ve heard until now, except that the sum mentioned is perhaps larger than might have been anticipated. (And that sum does not include another $40 billion for Egypt, Jordan and possibly Lebanon.)
Exceedingly large sum or not, this will not fly with the Palestinian Arabs. Especially is this so as there are indications that Kushner and Greenblatt are not planning to offer a Palestinian state within any borders.
I had written last week about Kushner’s statement that the way to handle borders was to “eliminate borders.” What has been suggested – I had not considered this – is that what he means is that there will only be a Palestinian autonomy.
That actually seems a possibility, for a significant change has just been made by the US with regard to diplomatic arrangements here: For many years there were two US consulates in Jerusalem. One, which is now also the site of the US Embassy, served in a normal consular role. The second consulate, on Agron Street, was for many years a de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority. That consulate answered directly to the State Department and was not under the umbrella of the US Embassy here, as is the norm for consulates.
That has now changed as this consulate has officially been merged with the Embassy. This means U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will oversee the diplomatic relations of the United States with the PA, as well as with Israel. Consul General Karen Sasahara is leaving and will not be replaced. A lower-ranking foreign service officer will now manage a new “Palestinian Affairs” unit, under the supervision of Friedman.
The new unit will function physically out of the same building on Agron, not within the confines of the Embassy itself.
Suffice it to say that the Palestinian Authority is not pleased with this change.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.