Israel PM back in court as parties weigh in on his fate

Henrietta Strickland
April 6, 2021

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial began on Monday, as Israel's President Reuven Rivlin launched talks to determine which parties could form a new government following recent general elections.

Mr Lapid also gained the eight seats controlled by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who was Mr Netanyahu's main rival in the three previous elections.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu accused prosecutors of persecuting him in an attempt to undermine the will of the voters and to drive him out of office.

"This is what a coup attempt looks like", he said.

Taken together, the court testimony and political consultations pointed to an increasingly uphill struggle for Netanyahu as he fights for his political life. With a majority of lawmakers opposed to giving Netanyahu another term, Rivlin could give the task to a different candidate, possibly as soon as Monday night.

The consultations "make it more hard for the president to give the mandate to Netanyahu", said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute.

Prosecutors said Mr Netanyahu made regulatory decisions worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Mr Elovitch in return for favourable coverage.

The trial enters a more intensive, evidentiary phase on Monday but a ruling is still several months off.

The president must designate a candidate to try to form a government by Wednesday, but with no clear frontrunner and two other candidates besides Netanyahu putting themselves forward to be prime minister, Rivlin said he "can't now see a way to form a coalition.after four election campaigns, democracy has exhausted itself".

"It was clear that we were a website that did what the prime minister's office asked us", Yeshua told the court.

He said the pressure went on "for hours on end" over several years.

Netanyahu's lawyers sought to make a rebuttal but were cut off by Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, who said they had already responded to the charges earlier in the trial.

He "made illegitimate use of the great governmental power entrusted to him", in his dealings with media executives "in order to advance his personal affairs - including when he faced his desire to be re-elected", Ms Ben-Ari said.

"How much can you lie?"

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The first involves Netanyahu allegedly receiving gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy friends, including Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. He has dismissed the allegations as a "witch hunt" by hostile media and law enforcement.

"They didn't investigate a crime".

Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing in the three cases against him. "The currency could distort a public servant's judgment".

Unlikely. The trial could take years.

Israel's March 23 election was its fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years, prolonging the worst political crisis in the nation's history.

Neither Netanyahu's allies nor his foes secured a governing majority.

Mr. Yamina had been in a position to serve as a kingmaker between the two major blocs of supporters and opponents of Netanyahu.

Former Walla chief executive Ilan Yeshua testified that he had been "barraged" by email and text message demands from both the Walla owners and Netanyahu confidants to improve reporting on the prime minister while attacking his political rivals. During the proceedings, Netanyahu's supporters cheered outside the courthouse.

Mr. Yamina has just seven seats in parliament, making it a long shot to be able to form a governing coalition.

Rivlin will select a leader on Wednesday charged with trying to form a government.

A former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, stepped down as his party's leader when he was under investigation for corruption in 2008 but technically remained in office until elections the following year - polls which brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power.

A group of anti-Netenyahu demonstrators stage a protest near the Jerusalem District Court ahead of the hearing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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