UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced demands on Friday to resign over a corruption scandal as senior cabinet ministers backed him after some signs of cracks in party loyalty emerged.
Netanyahu said he would not resign after the Israeli attorney general on Thursday charged him with bribery, fraud and dishonesty.
The leader of the 70-year-old right-wing Likud party denies any wrongdoing and denounces the charge, the first charge by an Israeli prime minister in the job, calling it a “coup attempt.”
But there are doubts that he will be able to lead a muddy state in a political crisis after two inconclusive elections that did not lead to a government.
A blue-white party, a centrist party, led by Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, issued a statement demanding that he “immediately resign from all cabinet positions in the government”.
The party, which holds 33 seats in the 120-seat Knesset vs. 32 for the Likud party, said its lawyers formally submitted a request to Netanyahu and the attorney general’s office, saying it was “inevitable” that Netanyahu step down.
An opinion poll published on Channel 13 showed 56 percent of Israelis believed Netanyahu could not continue to rule after being charged. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they thought it was possible, while nine percent did not.
Israeli law does not oblige Netanyahu to resign as prime minister. But as Israel heads for a likely third election in less than a year, Netanyahu could quickly find himself in a difficult position between trying to win the election and preparing for the trial that awaits him.
The support of his Likud colleagues is likely to be crucial to his chances of staying in power.
– Cracks in the ruling party –
Two Likud Knesset members publicly pointed to a leadership contest on Thursday. But even this moderate expression of disloyalty worries loyalists.
Senior ministers issued statements declaring support for Netanyahu and Justice Minister Amir Ohana said he was proud of his fellow Likud lawmakers for standing by Netanyahu, sharply adding: “Except for two of them.”
Radical-nationalist Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Netanyahu’s partner in the ruling coalition also expressed sympathy for Netanyahu after accusations against him by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday.
Smootrich said on Twitter that the planned street protests in support of the prime minister were intended to prevent a “brutal, violent and dangerous judicial dictatorship”.
After a televised speech on Thursday night, Netanyahu remained calm on Friday and wrote on Twitter: “Thank you for your support and love. Happy holiday ”I enclose the heart and the flag of Israel.
But the date of the Israeli elections could be against Netanyahu, who spent the longest ten years in office as prime minister in addition to three years in the 1990s.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday set a three-week deadline for lawmakers to present a new candidate, including a prime minister, to try to form a new government after both Netanyahu and Gantz failed to do so after the April and September elections.
If the deadline expires without success, new elections will be held within three months.
A source close to Rivlin said he expected appeals to overturn Netanyahu’s candidacy because of the charges. If the president takes such a step, Likud could remove Netanyahu from its ranks.
“What Netanyahu fears most is that in the midst of the extraordinary constitutional crisis that has taken place and amid political and judicial conflict, he will emerge as the only member of parliament who cannot (form a government),” wrote Tal Shalev, a political commentator for Israel’s Walla news website.
Two of the three cases in which Netanyahu is accused relate to media outlets whose presidents allegedly received benefits from Netanyahu in exchange for media coverage that showed greater support for his policies and behavior. Netanyahu has denied the accusations.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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