Benjamin Netanyahu is set to be formally given the nod for a fifth term as Israeli prime minister. File picture: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun
Benjamin Netanyahu is set to be formally given the nod for a fifth term as Israeli prime minister. File picture: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

Criminal charges loom as Benjamin Netanyahu to be named Israeli PM

By Mike Smith Time of article published Apr 17, 2019

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Jerusalem - Benjamin Netanyahu is set to be formally given the nod for a fifth term as Israeli prime minister Wednesday, but his potential indictment for corruption will hang over tough coalition negotiations in the days ahead.

Despite a strong challenge from a centrist alliance in last week's elections, Netanyahu emerged victorious with the help of allied right-wing parties that give him enough support to form a governing coalition.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who must choose which parliament member should form the next government, held consultations with political parties this week on their recommendations.

Netanyahu received the support of 65 of 120 parliament members to remain prime minister, and Rivlin is expected to announce his selection on Wednesday night.

He will have 28 days to form a government with a possible extension of a further two weeks.

The results from the April 9 election put Netanyahu on course to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister later this year, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion, but numerous risks lie ahead.

The 69-year-old's first task will be to reconcile divergent demands from his likely coalition partners.

Netanyahu's outgoing government was seen as the most right-wing in Israel's history, and the next is expected to be similar if not further to the right.

The coming months are also expected to see the unveiling of US President Donald Trump's long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Trump has shown no sign so far that he would be willing to make significant demands of his close ally Netanyahu in connection with his plan, though even minor concessions to the Palestinians could lead to criticism from far-right coalition partners.

But the biggest danger hanging over Netanyahu is his potential indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

'Everyone's prime minister'

The attorney general has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu pending an upcoming hearing. He would be the first sitting prime minister to be indicted.

Many analysts said one of Netanyahu's main motivations in moving toward early elections last week was to be able to confront the charges with a fresh electoral mandate behind him.

In a speech on Tuesday night, Netanyahu pledged to be "everyone's prime minister," but also took shots at journalists reporting on whether he will appoint an ally as justice minister who will seek changes to the supreme court long sought by the right.

There has been speculation over whether that could backfire and result in judges taking a harsher view of Netanyahu's alleged corruption.

"The citizens of Israel gave us full, clear-cut and unequivocal confidence," Netanyahu said. "And these commentators threaten us with a personal price," he added, referring to speculation over a potential prison sentence.

"That's what they call democracy and the rule of law. But every time, you give them a lesson in democracy at the ballot box."

The final election results show Netanyahu's Likud with 35 seats, the same number won by his main opponents from the centrist Blue and White alliance led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz.

But Gantz was left with no ability to form a coalition, with only 45 members of parliament backing him as next premier in consultations with Rivlin.

Referendum on Netanyahu

The election was seen in many ways as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for a total of more than 13 years.

He has built a reputation as guarantor of Israel's security and economic growth, but his divisive right-wing populism and alleged corruption has also led to calls for change.

Netanyahu highlighted his relationship with Trump throughout the campaign -- and especially the US president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital -- as part of his argument that he remains Israel's essential statesman.

In the coming coalition negotiations, many analysts expect Netanyahu to seek demands from partners that they would remain in the government after he is indicted.

Another major stumbling block will be a contentious bill that would seek to force ultra-Orthodox religious students to serve in the military like their secular counterparts.

Ultra-Orthodox parties, which will control 16 seats in the next coalition, plan to resist the change, but former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman is conditioning his inclusion in the government on the law being passed.

Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party's five seats will be crucial to Netanyahu's majority.


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