Looking Out: The Teflon prime minister

Benjamin Netanyahu, or Bibi for short, is not going anywhere. This week, Israeli police chiefs recommended an indictment for corruption charges. While this may sound like good news for the weakened Israeli left and to Bibi-haters everywhere, don’t hold your breath. There will be neither breaking news of his resignation nor a report that his coalition, perhaps the most right wing in Israeli history, broke down. In fact, the chances that this indictment will materialize are low. It is up to the Attorney General to act on the recommendation, and he is in no rush to make up his mind because he does not have a deadline. It could take several weeks, maybe even months, for him to make an official decision.

In the meantime, Netanyahu only needs to win in the court of public opinion, which is where he shines. This recommendation came at a particularly opportune time for him since Israeli media is laser focused on the downing of an Israeli fighter jet by Syria and the heightening tensions with Iran. Since Bibi’s specialty is his reputation as a security hawk who looks out for defense above all else, he will be able to sideline all other topics, including his bribery charges, by fanning the flames about Iran and escalating the situation further. This strategy, while a winner in the domestic scene, might lead to unintended consequences for Israel regarding the war in Syria.

Netanyahu won’t have to work very hard to distract the public as his supporters already do not care about the charges, and only about half of Israelis think he did something wrong or is deserving of an indictment for bribery. Even fewer, 40 percent, think he should resign. So, the public is not particularly keen on seeing Bibi out the door anytime soon; at least not before the next regularly scheduled election in 2019.

The only reason for his exit would be if the election were rescheduled following the collapse of the coalition government. This looks very unlikely. The most likely partner to bring down the coalition, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, said Kulanu would not abandon the Prime Minister without an official indictment. The other partners seem to be eyeing Netanyahu voters in the next election and do not wish to be blamed for his downfall.

It really comes down to the Attorney General’s decision. If he were to indict, Bibi is signaling he will not step down. While he talks exclusively about security against Iran, his party allies are discrediting the media and judiciary as left-wing institutions out to get Netanyahu. Their aim, much like Trump allies on the Russia investigation, is to cast doubt on the fairness of the case and paint it as a witch hunt.

Netayahu can only go down after a fight in the courts, which could be drawn out. An indictment will only be effective if coalition partners take it seriously, which does not seem imminent. So you can ignore the stream of Al Jazeera articles: Bibi is not going anywhere, for at least another year.

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