PM Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland

And so it has finally begun – PM Benjamin Netanyahu lost his most recent legal battle in which he tried to duck out of the opening of his own trial, but the judges ruled that Bibi had to show up in the dock, just like every other accused. (It is true that Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert were also convicted of financial malfeasance, but they resigned before the ignominy of a serving Prime Minister on trial). 

The building of the long and torturous case against Netanyahu has taken years – it involves bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. It seems like ages ago, including three inconclusive elections, that Netanyahu has still survived with this dark cloud over his head. He brushed off the allegations (now indictments) by quipping humorously to his Likud supporters, “There will be nothing from all of this because there is nothing!” But, he proved to be wrong. But the PM is anything but daunted. 

Case Number 1

So what if he accepted a couple of hundred thousand dollars in expensive cigars and champagne? Isn’t that what good and rich friends are for? (Israeli law strictly forbids any public employee or elected official from accepting gifts.) 

This comment from personal experience: After the signing of the peace accord between Jordan’s King Hussein and Israel’s Yizhak Rabin, the Jordanian leader wanted to bestow a memorial gift to the Israeli political reporters who had covered the historic peace process. However, we diplomatic correspondents of Israeli public radio and TV had to inform his majesty that we could not accept his gift of an expensive engraved watch because we were on the public payroll. 

Case number 2

Netanyahu is accused of trying to fix favorable press coverage by offering a publisher a crooked deal. To wit, the Yediot Ahronot newspaper would grant Netanyahu more favorable coverage, and in return, the PM would use his influence to increase its newspaper sales. This case has a tragic or humorous twist of events. Bibi is suspected of instructing one of his aids to tape a meeting that discussed the dirty deed secretly. However, this aid later turned state witness and has agreed to testify against the PM in return for not being prosecuted. But in this case, Bibi’s proposed deal with Yediot Ahronot never came to fruition.

Case Number 3

This manipulation apparently did. Bibi is suspected of cooking up a deal with the owner of a news agency, also for more positive coverage in return for a huge payback in another communications venture. In this case, another state witness has agreed to testify against the Prime Minister.

AG Avichai Mandelblit Photo By Mark Neyman / Government Press Office (Israel)

Netanyahu’s supporters contend that this is “much ado about nothing” and agree that he is being framed. Moreover, even if Netanyahu tried to manipulate better media coverage, what’s so wrong with that? Because the media in Israel is dominated by left-wingers, and Netanyahu was only trying to “level the playing field.” But the stops are being pulled out everywhere – a new minor Likud cabinet minister has just publicly declared that AG Avichai Mandelblit, who oversaw the investigation, is himself a crook. Bear in mind that Mendleblitt was Bibi’s former cabinet secretary, and even recommended by the PM for Attorney General. 

Now the Israeli public will be regaled for months to come with the trial. But bear in mind that unlike the three-ring congressional circus about impeaching President Donald Trump, an Israeli court hearing is a different kettle of fish. It is expected to last for months, and even if Bibi were found guilty, there would be an appeal to the Supreme Court, and legal experts tell us the process could take a couple of years. So don’t hold your breath, Netanyahu is a tenacious fighter with seemingly boundless energy, and his Likud stalwarts are firmly behind him as the best candidate around to face the Iranian and terrorist threats. Moreover, it is fair to say that Netanyahu has personally led Israel rather successfully through the current COVID-19 crisis. To date, some 280 Israelis have died of the disease, compared to Sweden, a country of comparable population, which has experienced over ten times the death rate of Israel. 

Although his critics blast Bibi (and rightly so) for some of his political chicanery and indeed dirty tricks, there is no doubt that this graduate of MIT is as sharp as a tack. In addition, there are his positive relations with US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin – yes, maybe it takes one to know one. And speaking of impeachments, was it not “tricky Dick” who coined the phrase of “snake pit” for describing relations between world powers? The question is, will Bibi go the way of Richard Nixon, or survive possible like Donald Trump? The proverbial juries are still out on this question. (By the way, there’s no jury system in Israel, only judges). 

West Bank President Mahmoud Abbas On The War Path

PA President Mahmoud Abbas

With the threat of Israel’s new government annexing part or all of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared he is suspending all security cooperation with Israel. At present, Bibi is under immense pressure in the Likud and the far-Right to start annexing Judea and Samaria after the Trump administration signaled that it is not apposed to such a move. In the new government, Bibi’s main coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has yet to take his final stand. Yes, such a security arrangement exists despite the sporadic attacks from the West Bank, while in Gaza, the Palestinians conduct low-intensity warfare.

For example, there is a hotline between Israeli and Palestinian security officials in the West Bank. If either side wants to alert the other of a possible terror attack, in order to take preventative action. And get this, if the IDF conducts a counter-terror action on the West Bank, they first alert Palestinian security so they can clear out and avoid an unwanted clash. And, there have been cases where Palestinian security rushed to the aid of Israeli civilians who had mistakenly entered West Bank areas where they could have been attacked by terrorists. 

On the other hand, There’s this weird Palestinian response – President Abbas has refused to accept vital medical equipment from abroad to help cope with COVID-19 in the West Bank because it was flown into Israel’s Ben Gurion airport! Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. 

But if Abbas is not bluffing, this has to be a major concern for Netanyahu. Then there’s the upcoming US presidential election. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has warned that he opposed any unilateral annexation by Israel. No further explanation needed.

King Abdallah Codemns Annexation

King Abdullah II
CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2020– Source: EP

Then there’s Jordan, the second Arab state to have signed a peace agreement with Israel. Kind Abdallah II warns that an Israeli annexation on the West Bank would lead to “massive conflict.” This would seem to mean the abrogation of the peace treaty signed by his father, Kind Hussein. 

In the opposition, Knesset member Moshe Yaalon blasted Netanyahu saying Israel is paying the price for the PM’s words and now deeds. Yaalon, a former IDF Chief of Staff, said that the political considerations of the accused (Netanyahu) and his loose talk about annexation have damaged Israel’s relations with both Jordan and now the Palestinian Authority. 

On the other hand, far-Right Israelis contend that the Palestinians are now a majority in Jordan today – in other words, Jordan could become “Palestine.” 

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