Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Netanyahu seeks to subvert rule of law

No politician should consider themselves immune from punishment for wrongdoing

Protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposed Immunity Law. Getty
Protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposed Immunity Law. Getty

After winning a fifth term in office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might think he is untouchable. The thousands of protesters who gathered on the streets of Tel Aviv over the weekend, however, would no doubt disagree. They massed in public amid claims Mr Netanyahu is trying to pass legislation to ensure he cannot be prosecuted while in power. The crowds of Israelis were protesting against a bill proposed in the Knesset by Likud member Miki Zohar, an ally of Mr Netanyahu, which would ensure the sitting prime minister was immune from prosecution. As pressure mounts on the prime minister to form a coalition before Wednesday’s deadline – when he forfeits the right to form a government and the baton could be passed to another member of the Knesset – he is clearly feeling the heat. In February, attorney general Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Mr Netanyahu, pending a hearing in October. Now there are suggestions possible coalition partners are promising to support legislation protecting him from the law, in return for sweeteners. The Union of Right-Wing Parties, for example, has demanded an annexation-for-immunity deal to help him reach the right number of seats, whereby Mr Netanyahu commits to annexing large tracts of the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu is no friend to Palestinians. He has frozen funds to the Palestinian Authority and ramped up the construction of illegal settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes. It is therefore no surprise that he will consider trading their liberties for his own vested interests. The latest move from Likud, thought to be with his approval, shows he has no respect for the rule of law, whether it affects Israelis or Palestinians. It is a flagrant attempt to override democratic processes – so much so that his rival Benny Gantz went so far as to say: “There are those who are attempting to replace the people’s rule with the rule of a single man and to enslave an entire nation to the interests of one man.”

No political leader is above the law. It was the notion of an “imperial presidency” that led to Richard Nixon’s fall from grace in 1973. More than four decades on, US President Donald Trump insists he is unimpeachable. Rules of law are there for a reason: to protect the people and ensure those who govern them are beyond reproach. It is not yet clear what will happen to Mr Netanyahu or Mr Trump. But neither should they consider themselves immune, because complete protection from the law implies politicians can do as they wish, regardless of the consequences. Those who act with impunity can end up manipulating political systems for personal gain or for the benefit of a select few. Mr Netanyahu is learning that the support of the people who voted him in is not limitless but comes with responsibility and great expectations. He would be wise to realise if he continues to act in self-interest alone, his time could run out.

Updated: May 27, 2019 05:41 AM

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