Yes, the law allows a prime minister under indictment to continue to serve. That is because the lawmakers believed that an indictment is not sufficient reason to bring about the fall of the government. If a minister is under indictment, according to High Court rulings, they must resign, but the prime minister is not obliged to resign under the law.
There is understandable logic for the law, however; a prime minister with integrity and a moral compass would understand the ethical obligation to resign anyway under such circumstances. Prime minister Ehud Olmert stepped down and resigned for an indictment of crimes that he committed when he wasn’t even the prime minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment are for alleged criminal behavior for years during the period that he has been serving as prime minister. The charges against him – fraud, breach of public trust and bribery – are severe, and the indictment is not for a single infraction but for long-time criminal behavior over the course of years.
There shouldn’t even need to be a discussion of the legal question of whether or not he is obliged to resign – he should have the moral compass to know that an indicted prime minister is not something that we as a society should tolerate. It is not a question of presumed innocence, which must be the case for all citizens, but the prime minister is not an ordinary citizen. The prime minister is the leader of the nation and should be a symbol of moral leadership not tarnished by indictments for corruption. No leader in the democratic world (with the exception of Netanyahu’s good friend US President Donald Trump) would have the inclination to remain in power with such a huge, black cloud of possible wrong doing above them. Instead of stepping down, Netanyahu is accusing the legal and justice systems – the foundations of our democracy – of a conspiracy against him. He has incited the public against the institutions of our legal and justice systems that ensure law and order – the police, the public prosecutor and the attorney-general.
Adding insult to injury, it is important to remember that it was Netanyahu himself who appointed the top people in all three of those institutions. His direct incitement against the legal institutions of this country and the specific people who head these institutions is another breach against public trust, and probably should be considered criminal in its own right. He further incites against the media accusing them (falsely) of, God forbid, being leftist!
In addition to this, it is essential to remember that the prime minister’s resignation at this time is not a regime change. The prime minister has been unable to form a coalition government. He is heading a transitional government which does not have the confidence of the Knesset. Any other leader of the Likud could take over those transitional responsibilities until any other member of Knesset (without criminal charges against them) gains the confidence of 61 members of Knesset, or until we automatically move toward the third round of elections. Instead, the prime minister is holding on, presumably in an effort to gain immunity from prosecution – even after he told the public that he would not seek immunity.
NETANYAHU IS no longer fit to serve. I state this not because I oppose him politically, but because he has been indicted after years of investigation by the police, the prosecutor’s office and the attorney-general. Netanyahu had his chance in a hearing (something ordinary citizens don’t have an opportunity for), where his battery of lawyers made his case and failed to convince the heads of our justice system that the charges of suspicion should be dropped. Now he needs to have his day in court.
Olmert, whose efforts to make peace with the Palestinians I supported, was very close to an agreement for a two-state solution with Mahmoud Abbas after 42 negotiating meetings between them. Both Olmert and Abbas have stated publicly that if they had a maximum of another three months to negotiate, they would have reached a comprehensive final status agreement on all of the issues in conflict. But Olmert resigned and could not complete those negotiations. Members of his own party convinced him to resign. They did not attack the justice system. Members of his own party told the Palestinian leader not to continue to negotiate with him, because he lost his political legitimacy.
Olmert did the right thing and resigned, even though this put an end to the best Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since the original Oslo talks. I personally participated in demonstrations calling for his resignation. His crimes for which he was convicted prevented Israel from reaching a historic agreement with the Palestinians. It wasn’t only Netanyahu, then head of the opposition in the Knesset, who called for Olmert to resign. The so-called leftist media called for Olmert’s resignation and so did the leaders of the so-called “peace camp.” There were no claims of a legal right to retain the position of prime minister such as the one that Netanyahu evokes in order to keep his grip on power. There was a moral issue involved, and at the end of the day, Olmert – the criminal – proved that he had a far higher standard of moral integrity than Netanyahu.
The readers of this column know that for me, there is nothing of more importance for Israel than reaching peace with our Palestinian neighbors. If Netanyahu was deeply engaged in positive negotiations with the Palestinians, I would still call for his resignation. Netanyahu will have his day in court. He will be able to investigate the investigators when they are on the witness stand. Now, he should focus on clearing his name – and he should clear the political arena so that Israel can once again have a government.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.