On January 28, 2020, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, was indicted on corruption charges with a number of allegations against him. This has a number of implications as we think of the third round of elections in Israel and the Trump Peace Plan signed by United States President Donald Trump and Netanyahu on January 28, 2020. Netanyahu was indicted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt on these charges on November 21, 2019. Netanyahu has rejected these charges, claiming that this an attempted coup to get him out of power (BBC, 2020). This comes after Mr. Netanyahu tried to attain immunity from these charges but withdrew his request for immunity after realizing he will not have sufficient votes from the legislature for approval (Reuters at Jerusalem, 2020). This request was the only thing preventing his indictment. With Mr. Mandelbilt submitting the papers for his indictment to the Jerusalem District Court, the trial for Mr. Netanyahu has begun.
What are the charges against Netanyahu?
Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. These cases are known as cases 1,000, 2,000, and 4,000 (BBC, 2020). Mr. Netanyahu denies these allegations, calling them nothing but baseless “witch hunts” (BBC, 2020).
Case 1000 talks about Netanyahu’s relationship with businessmen Arnon Milchan, Israeli Hollywood producer, and James Packer an Australian billionaire (BBC, 2020). The charge against Netanyahu spoke a lot about him receiving high-benefit gifts from these businessmen which Netanyahu called tokens of friendship. These ‘tokens’ consisted of cigars, bottles of champagne and other expensive items which are reportedly worth 956,000 shekels— or $264,100 ( BBC, 2020). Milchan and Packer have both denied any wrongdoing but are not facing any charges as of yet (BBC, 2020).
Case 2000 concerns meetings Mr. Netanyahu conducted with Arnon Mozes, businessman, and shareholder of the Yedioth Ahrnoth media group, which publishes famous Israeli newspaper (BBC, 2020). Mr. Mandebilt has decided to charge Mozes with bribery. This charge dealt with the newspaper showing Mr. Netanyahu in a positive light and a possible legislative bill that would mitigate the damage done to Mozes’ newspaper by a rival newspaper, Yisrael Hayom (BBC, 2020). Mr. Netanyahu has said that the bill did not pass, and the coalition was dissolved in 2015 because of his opposition to it.
Case 4000 deals with Mr. Netanyahu’s illegal arrangement with Saul Elovitch, owner of the news and media website Walla. The accusations had to do with Walla drastically altering their coverage on Walla to show Mr. Netanyahu in a positive light and Mr. Netanyahu returning the favor by giving Elovitch and Walla benefits (BBC, 2020). Mr. Mandebilt has charged Elovitch and his wife, Iris with bribery. All three accused parties have denied any wrongdoing.
What are the implications of the indictment?
The charges come at a very important period in Israeli politics. The charges came a few hours after Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu announced the Trump Peace Plan. It is also a few months before the third election in Israel after the last two elections could not establish a majority government the previous two times. However, after this indictment, Netanyahu and his party, the Likud party, are in a difficult position to retain the seat for the Prime Minister. His main opponent, former army chief Benny Gantz, stated the citizens of Israel have a clear choice to choose between a prime minister who will work for them or a prime minister currently preoccupied with himself (CNN, 2020).
The Trump Peace Plan: What are the true motives?
However, with this indictment has been going on since November 2019, one must think what the true motive of the Middle East Peace Plan, or the Trump Peace Plan, is. Announced hours after the announcement of the indictment of Benjamin Netanyahu, it has been described by President Trump as an ‘ideal two-state solution’, stating Jerusalem would be the undivided capital of Israel with Palestine possibly having parts of East Jerusalem as its capital (Welle, 2020). It also froze the construction of Israeli settlement construction for a minimum of four years with Israel claiming the territory for the settlements that have already been built. This plan has faced a negative backlash from the Palestinians who took to protest in Gaza ahead of the announcement, with Trump being accused of favoring the Israelis too much.
One must think of the true motives for the Peace plan. Does Donald Trump really care about Israeli and Palestinian interests? Did Netanyahu rush to agree with this agreement too quickly? It is important to remember that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu are in unfavorable situations in their respective countries. Mr. Trump has been facing impeachment charges for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Mr. Netanyahu has been indicted with charges of corruption and breach of trust. Both of these charges come before they stand for re-election, with the third election in Israel happening in March this year, while Mr. Trump is fighting for re-election as the primary candidate for the Republican Party for Presidential elections this year. Is the Peace Plan a ploy to divert the negative attention both Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu have been garnering for being charged towards something more positive and respectable? It is an important question to ask as the timing appears to be suspect due to it being during the time they are both facing charges.
Is Netanyahu using an uneven playing field?
An important question to ask is whether Netanyahu’s political institution in Israel is exhibiting signs of a competitive authoritarian regime. The allegations against Netanyahu include a lot for interaction with owners of media houses where he tried to portray himself in a positive light. In many regimes, this can be regarded as the source of an uneven playing field seen in many competitive authoritarian regimes. Israel is a multi-party democracy and these trends point towards an unfair advantage being used by Netanyahu to create an uneven playing field, assuming these allegations are true. These allegations also point towards the trend of clientelism and patronage, where benefits are being exchanged between the incumbent Netanyahu and rich businessmen in the private sector.
With these charges being pressed against Netanyahu and him likely to face trial sooner rather than later, it is important to think what this means for the Likud party and Benny Ganz, who will change their strategy and try to look favorable for election as prime minister. Another thing to think about is if these allegations are true and Mr. Netanyahu was engaging in acts of patronage and clientelism, has the essence of democracy died in Israel? According to ‘How Democracies Die’, a sign of authoritarian behavior is when the democratic rules of the game are broken (Levitskey and Ziblatt, 2019). However, is the use of resources in media the bending of rules or merely a privilege that comes with being the incumbent? We must think of these questions as we approach the third election in Israel to establish the government.
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. Penguin Books, 2019.
“Benjamin Netanyahu.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 28 Jan. 2020, www.biography.com/political-figure/benjamin-netanyahu.
Jerusalem, Reuters in. “Netanyahu Indicted in Court after Removing Immunity Request.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Jan. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/28/netanyahu-withdraws-immunity-from-prosecution-request.
“Netanyahu Indicted in Court on Corruption Charges after Dropping Immunity Bid.” BBC News, BBC, 28 Jan. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-51277429.
Welle, Deutsche. “Trump Reveals Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan: DW: 28.01.2020.” DW.COM, 28 Jan. 2020, www.dw.com/en/trump-reveals-israeli-palestinian-peace-plan/a-52179629.
Fandos, Nicholas, and Michael. “Trump Impeached for Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Dec. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/12/18/us/politics/trump-impeached.html.
“Benjamin Netanyahu: What Are the Corruption Charges?” BBC News, BBC, 21 Nov. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47409739.
Benjamin “Benny” Gantz, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/benjamin-quot-benny-quot-gantz.
Al Jazeera. “Protests in Gaza Ahead of Trump’s Middle East Plan Release.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 28 Jan. 2020, www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/protests-gaza-trump-israeli-plan-release-200128142204190.html.