Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

The world needs Israeli leaders who will prioritise peace

After his indictment on corruption charges, Netanyahu could be forced to surrender power in April

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on corruption charges. Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on corruption charges. Reuters

Benjamin Netanyahu might be the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted on corruption charges, but he is in no mood to relinquish power. In nationwide elections in April, he will face the political fight of his life. Under his stewardship, extremist views have been subsumed into the political mainstream. And given his track record of mobilising the Israeli right, Mr Netanyahu could still win re-election.

But, for the Palestinians – occupied by Israel for decades – and the wider region, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that he will not. The downfall of Mr Netanyahu could usher in a moderate administration in Tel Aviv, and the world needs an Israeli political landscape that is not broken. It needs an Israeli political partner that is ready for peace.

Attorney general Avichai Mandelblit intends to indict Mr Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, related to his wooing of Israeli media and telecoms barons, with whom he allegedly traded regulatory favours for positive coverage.

The prime minister can now defend himself and, famed for his stubbornness, Mr Netanyahu will not go quietly. He has already said the charges are “designed to topple the right and bring the left to power”, and has loudly attacked the judiciary, which will concern moderate Israelis. Ahead of Mr Mandelblit’s decision, opinion polls gave Mr Netanyahu a slight lead in April’s elections. But while he remains popular in Israel, his legal woes could push coalition partners to abandon him.

In response, Mr Netanyahu has doubled down, courting extremists, including the fringe Otza Yehudit party, led by Michael Ben-Ari. The party might have earned the nickname “Israeli KKK”, but Mr Netanyahu has reportedly promised it two ministerial positions in his coalition.

It is characteristic of a leader who has used his tenure to brutalise Palestinians and inflict lasting blows to the prospect of peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Meanwhile, a so-called Blue and White alliance has emerged, led by former army chief of staff Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, formerly of the centrist Yesh Atid party, targeting secular, middle-class Israelis who object to Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party. Mr Gantz is certainly no saviour – he once bragged about sending Gaza “back to the stone age” with airstrikes – but a centrist movement capable of ousting Mr Netanyahu is a step in the right direction.

As the US prepares to unveil its Middle East peace plan, the world needs an Israeli leader who will prioritise peace. That was never Mr Netanyahu, even before this indictment pushed him to the brink.

Updated: March 2, 2019 06:10 PM

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