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Left to right: Netanyahu, Mandelblit

The fate of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is now in the hands of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. A full blown police investigation of the PM is now underway on two counts:

  1. A tape recording, now in the hands of the police, reportedly proves Bibi and Yediot Ahronot newspaper owner Noni Moses discussed how to rig control over the sale and content of newspapers in Israel. This included the freebie Yisrael Hayom that totally backs Bibi and is financed by Sheldon Adelson, the American casino tycoon. (Get this: Bibi himself taped Moses. The PM now claims he did so to discredit the owner of the newspaper that hauled him over the coals day in and out. The only problem is that their secret powwows took place years ago and Bibi never handed over the recordings to the police after colluding with Moses on what was apparently a serious breech of trust, if not more).
  2. Bibi and his wife Sara (who has a habit of getting into hot water with the law) are suspected of having received some one hundred thousands dollars in super expensive cigars and champagne from Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan. The Netanyahus contend these were legitimate gifts between close buddies and not bribes.

Forget about Trump and terrorism, the Bibi scandal has dominated the headlines, and with good reason. If Bibi is prosecuted, he will be forced to step down temporarily from the premiership. The decision on whether to prosecute is solely in the hands of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. The plot really thickens, as Mandelblit served previously as Bibi's cabinet secretary and was recommended by the PM for Attorney General. Now the cabinet secretary is the PM's right hand man - no one is closer to the Prime Minister. He is in constant contact with the cabinet ministers passing on instructions etc. At the time of the appointment there was a petition to the Supreme Court on the grounds that Mandelblit's objectivity could be affected if he ever had to decide on prosecuting his former boss and friend. However the Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, decided there was no existing law,(apparently except for the unwritten law of common sense) that barred the PM's best pal from becoming Attorney General. Alas, the petitioner's case has now been vindicated to the chagrin of the Supreme Court judges.

The allegations may prove to be true but not indictable - in other words, legally kosher although they reek to high heaven.

On the other hand, Mandelblit has a reputation of being a straight shooter, if that's any consolation. But he is now in the throes of a devilish dilemma. If the Attorney General decides to prosecute he will endanger/betray his friend and benefactor. However, if he does not, he will be suspected of placing his friendship with Bibi above his sacred public duty. Moreover, there could be another petition to the Supreme Court this time questioning his decision. It's really a clear case of 'damned if he does, damned if he doesn't!' But it's still early days. Both Bibi and Sara have been questioned by police. Their son, Yair Avner, who has also benefited from the largeness of other fat cats bearing expensive gifts, is also due to be grilled by police.

There is a mounting hue and cry for the Attorney General to send Bibi to trial. From former legal authorities and experts, the politicians on both sides and the media are locked in a fierce public debate on the issue. Nonetheless, the facts are still fuzzy, and the investigation proceeds. But what happens if Mandelblit eventually concludes that Bibi must face the music in court. Netanyahu will be forced to temporarily vacate his office and appoint some other Likudnik in his place. There are a number of contenders champing at the bit but they are all light-weights. They include Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, Police Minister Gilad Arden, and Gideon Saar, who took a time-out due to riffs with Bibi and has been waiting in the wings ready for the PM to bow out.

In order to prevent a damaging free-for-all during Bibi's suspension, the party could appoint a temporary replacement such as Minister Yuval Steinitz who is not perceived as a viable contender for party leadership. If Bibi were to be convicted all hell would break out in the Likud party. One long-shot could be the return of the current Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon who bolted the Likud to set up his own party. Maybe the Likud would welcome the return of its prodigal son who was once its pride and joy, before he also fell out with Bibi.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly declared all the allegations are BS and 'Nothing will come out of the investigations because there is nothing!' However former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also took the same line 'Not one shekel has greased my palm' - technically he was right. Olmert never took 'one shekel' he took $500,000 and is now doing time in the slammer. At this stage, Netanyahu is taking a bashing, but he's been there before. The allegations may prove to be true but not indictable - in other words, legally kosher although they reek to high heaven.

Left to right, Avi Gabai, Gilad Sher

Meanwhile, the Labor Opposition party smells blood and shows signs of closing ranks, but not behind its current lack luster leader Yitzhak Herzog. Knesset Member Amir Peretz has thrown his hat into the ring and has been reinforced by Gilad Sher who served as right-hand man to former prime minister Ehud Barak. This would seem to indicate that despite his recent sniping at Bibi, Ehud Barak has no plans of returning to Labor at present. Sher, who was part of Barak's team at the Camp David peace parley of 2000, played a key role in formulating Barak's 'territory for peace' offer that was left unanswered by Yasser Arafat. Another addition to Labor is Avi Gabai, who quit Kahlon's party after Bibi fired the esteemed Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in order to bring in Avigdor Lieberman. This, Gabai perceived as sacrificing national security for party politics. Gabai, a Mizrachi Jew, something that is an asset in Israeli politics, is a brilliant business executive who walked away from making millions in his private career 'to serve the country in its dire straits'. Gabai has launched a campaign to recruit non-party members and has signaled something like 'It's high time' for a Mizrachi prime minister. If he plays his cards right, Gabai could go a long way - he could be just what the doctor ordered to attract low income Mizrachi voters, who vote predominantly for the Likud despite the fact that Bibi and his cohorts are champions of a capitalism that has increased the gap between the 'haves and have-nots' in Israel. And why is that? Because Bibi and the Likud take a hard-line on the Palestinian issue.

Terror in Jerusalem...

aftermath of the truck that rammed into group of soldiers in Jerusalem, killing four, before driver was shot and killed.

Jerusalem, a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Scores of IDF soldiers are getting on buses near the beautiful Armon Hanasi boulevard opposite the panorama of East Jerusalem. The soldiers are mulling about preparing to hear lectures about the area from tour guides. Of course, Sunday is the start of the new week in the Jewish state. From the adjacent Arab township of Jabel Mukaber, a stead stream of cars and trucks are heading into Jerusalem - there are no road blocks - Jerusalem is supposed to be a united city where Arab residents come and go from the eastern part of the city into the Jewish part on the western side. The IDF soldiers disembark from their buses just like any other group of tourists along the busy highway. Suddenly a big truck traveling from Jabel Mukaber speeds up. The driver has stepped hard on the gas and deliberately plows into one group of soldiers getting off their bus. The truck driver not only runs over them but also makes a U-turn and returns within seconds to run over them again.

The four soldiers killed in the truck attack

A civilian armed with a revolver and an IDF Lt. Mia Peled open fire at the terrorist killing him behind the wheel. But not before the terrorist, a resident of Jabel Mukaber with links to Daesh, killed four soldiers, three of them women, and wounded a number of others, some seriously. Naturally the Israeli civilian, who was himself struck by the truck and the young officer deserve credit for their swift and effective response. But there is also a searing question that should be answered. What about the more senior IDF officer who planned the outing and started off by allowing scores of IDF soldiers to get off their buses, unprotected on the street at the side of the road from Jabel Macaber? And all this on the highway leading from Jabal Mukaber which is notorious for terrorists who carried out numerous terror attacks?

The Jerusalem conundrum...

Granted, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel's capital. There is no question that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people since King David's reign some 4,000 years ago. Since its founding around 2,000 BC, Jews all over the world have prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. By contrast, Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca. The question today is whether it's a good idea that Trump move the embassy at this time. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that such a step could trigger a huge explosive of Muslim outrage throughout the Middle East and probably elsewhere. So IsraCast is of the view that this question should also be asked: If moving the embassy to Jerusalem could result in the shedding of American blood, who will be blamed? Will it be only enraged Muslims or also Israel?

Dennis Ross, the American diplomat who has more negotiating mileage in the Middle East than anyone else, has addressed this thorny question in an interview with Israel Radio. While taking it in strideת Ross also warned that moving the embassy should be carefully planned, and explained:

If moving the embassy to Jerusalem could result in the shedding of American blood, who will be blamed? Will it be only enraged Muslims or also Israel?

       'Moving the American embassy to West Jerusalem must not be done impulsively but only after careful preparation. The Trump administration must first prepare everyone publicly and get everyone used to the idea. There is no question about West Jerusalem being the capital of Israel The only question is about those who do not even want Israel to exist. So the US should make clear that it would not be a US statement about the final status of Jerusalem that must still be be negotiated'.

Reading between the lines, Dennis Ross is calling for an understanding also with the Arab states and the Palestinians before any unilateral action on Jerusalem by President Trump. If this is the case, it seems to IsraCast that the minimum Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would demand is American support for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. But at present, a Palestinian state does not exist. Therefore the Palestinians would reject the idea out of hand and view it as a one sided-American concession to Israel. Under pressure from the enraged Arab street, the Arab governments, particularly in Jordan with its majority of Palestinians, would have no option but to reject it out of hand.

Who knows how President Trump might react? He might say to hell with the Palestinians and the Arab states. Or faced with a potential Muslim backlash he might simply back off, saying moving the embassy will have to wait for a more suitable stage of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that do not at present even exist.


David Essing

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