Netanyahu heads home, political future in balance

Washington, Thursday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returns tomorrow from the United States to face what may be the most crucial stretch of his long political career, with corruption probes encircling him and talk of elections building.

With no fewer than four investigations looking into his affairs and a possible indictment on the horizon, Netanyahu has been seeking to remind Israelis of what supporters view as his clout and leadership.

He sat alongside US President Donald Trump and spoke of the “historic” White House decision to designate the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a major diplomatic coup for Netanyahu that enraged the Palestinians.

Trump said he may attend the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel.

A day later, receiving a warm welcome from some 18,000 people at a conference for pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, Netanyahu spoke of what he describes as his achievements at home and abroad while pledging to “stop” Israel’s greatest enemy, Iran.

But even as he prepared to meet Trump, a former aide who had been among his close allies was signing a state witness agreement with the police to testify against him. He is the third Netanyahu associate to do so in a matter of months.

The attorney general is now weighing whether to follow a police recommendation to indict Netanyahu for bribery in two of the four cases, with investigations continuing into the others.

As the investigations close in, there has been widespread speculation that Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of 12 years, will opt for early elections to bolster his standing ahead of a decision on indictments.

Some accuse Netanyahu of allowing a political crisis to brew within his coalition to enable elections soon — or to at least give himself options. His right-wing coalition has been split over a bill to exempt ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious students from military service, with the issue threatening to pull apart the government. —AFP

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