Can Israel survive without Netanyahu
On Friday, the day after the attorney general spoke, supporters and opponents of the prime minister gathered in front of Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem. Some called for his resignation after the three charges of bribery, fraud and infidelity, while others praised his services as the longest-serving prime minister in Israel.
From the political competition, Netanyahu was confronted not only with calls for resignation, but also with concrete legal steps. The Supreme Court received several petitions, including from the Labor Party, calling for his impeachment.
Because Netanyahu is also the first incumbent prime minister in the history of Israel to be indicted, it is now legal experts' turn to clarify very tricky questions. Because the law provides that a Prime Minister only has to resign after a final conviction - which can take years until the end of the appeal process. But does that also apply to the prime minister of a transitional government? After the parliamentary elections in September, both Netanyahu and his rival from the blue-white alliance, Benny Gantz, failed to bring about a coalition. There is currently only one Provisional Government in office.
Netanyahu himself announced shortly after the charges were announced that he would not resign. The politician of the right-wing nationalist Likud spoke of a "coup attempt" and attacked the police and the judiciary with unprecedented severity. He accused them, among other things, of fabricating false information and putting witnesses under pressure during the three-year investigation. He is accused of accepting gifts and is said to have offered to influence legislation in return for consideration. Netanyahu faces up to ten years in prison.
It is not the first time that a senior politician has been charged with corruption in Israel. Ehud Olmert, later sentenced to 18 months in prison, resigned as prime minister in 2008 when the police recommended charges following their investigation. The public prosecutor's office hadn't even started work then. The video in which the then opposition leader Netanyahu asked Olmert to resign was now posted by his political rival Benny Gantz. And the lawyers of his blue-white alliance applied to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday that Netanyahu must give up his ministerial posts with immediate effect.
According to the law, a minister must resign as soon as a charge is brought. As head of government, Netanyahu had taken over other portfolios from ministers over time. He is currently also responsible for the Agriculture, Diaspora, Health and Social Affairs departments. Netanyahu took over the Ministry of Social Affairs from his party colleague Chaim Katz, who had to resign in August after being charged with corruption. Health affairs belonged to Jakov Litzman, who faces charges for allegedly protecting a suspected child molester. It is expected that Interior Minister Ayre Deri will soon also be indicted - among other things for money laundering. Legal experts discussed who will then be allowed to take over the interior department. They only agreed that it cannot be Netanyahu.
Not only is the government in office on a provisional basis, the parliament is also not fully functional - which affects Netanyahu's process. There is currently no committee that can deal with Netanyahu's immunity application. The General Prosecutor's Office has already presented the charges to the President of Parliament. Netanyahu now has 30 days to apply for immunity.
It is expected that Netanyahu will try again in this way to avoid going to court. Before the election in September, Netanyahu was unable to carry out his plan to enforce a law that would automatically grant him immunity. In the opinion of most legal experts, however, the attorney general has to wait for this decision in parliament before the indictment goes to court.
For the first time in history, the Knesset MPs are entrusted with the task of agreeing a majority on a prime minister. After the indictment of Netanyahu, this should not have become any easier. It is doubtful that they will agree on a candidate in the next few weeks, so there will probably be another election in March. Only after the constitution of the Knesset and the establishment of a committee could a decision on Netanyahu's immunity be made. This means that he should be in the dock in the spring at the earliest.
In Netanyahu's Likud party, more and more people are questioning his leadership
Lawyers are also discussing whether Netanyahu should even be allowed to form a new government after the indictment. The public prosecutor who prepared the charges against him has already made a decision: According to Shai Nitzan, he is not allowed to build a new coalition as a defendant. Should it come to the fact that Likud wins the new elections and Netanyahu receives the order to form a government, the attorney general would have to decide again. The chances that there could be a unity government between Likud and Blue-White have vanished with the indictment - at least if Netanyahu were part of the coalition. Gantz, who recently wavered on this question, has made a decision: he does not want to sit in a government with a defendant.
In Netanyahu's Likud party, too, more and more people are questioning his claim to leadership, even if no one openly asked him to resign, at least on Friday. Likud-nominated ministers referred to the presumption of innocence in defense of their boss. But among the party's MPs there are increasing voices calling for internal party primaries and hoping to overthrow Netanyahu. In addition to Netanyahu's rival, ex-Interior Minister Gideon Saar, there is said to be another politician who wants to run against him.
There is consensus in Israel's media that Netanyahu will not give up and fight for his political survival. The newspaper Jediot Acharonot wrote: "This will not be a choice, it will be a civil war without arms."
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