Don't expect Benjamin Netanyahu to resign anytime soon
Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure after Israeli police recommended the four-term prime minister be charged with bribery in two cases, one of which mentions Australian billionaire James Packer.
It is by no means certain that Mr Netanyahu will be charged. The police can only make recommendations.
It is now up to Israel’s attorney-general, Avichai Mandelblit, to decide whether to press charges.
That decision could take months.
But this doesn’t mean he has to resign
Mr Netanyahu is under no strict legal obligation to quit following the police recommendations.
In fact, he has given every indication that he intends to remain in office.
In a televised address, a stern-looking Mr Netanyahu said the recommendations against him were baseless and that he would “continue to lead Israel responsibly and faithfully”.
There has been little public pressure from coalition partners for him to step down, although that could change as fellow politicians and the Israeli public study details of the cases.
There was speculation before the police recommendations were made public on Tuesday that Mr Netanyahu might call early elections, seeking a public mandate that would make a prosecutor think twice before moving against him.
However, several polls in recent months have shown his popularity ebbing.
And in that televised address Mr Netanyahu said he was “certain” the next elections would be held on schedule. They are not due until November 2019.
What does James Packer have to do with all this?
First up, Israeli police have not recommended charging Mr Packer.
The corruption probe that let to the recommendation of charges against Mr Netanyahu has focused on allegations that he and his family illegally accepted gifts like champagne and cigars from wealthy individuals.
One of those individuals is James Packer.
There have been local media reports that Mr Packer spoke to Israeli police last year and helped them with their investigations.
Here’s the ABC’s Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill on the relationship between Mr Packer and Mr Netanyahu:
“They’ve both described each other as really dear friends.
“Mr Packer purchased a multi-million dollar beach-front apartment right next door to the private home of the Israeli prime minister,” she told AM.
“He’s (Packer) said to be very good friends with Mr Netanyahu’s son. They really have had this very close relationship.”
What impact all this have on stability in the Middle East?
A cloud over Mr Netanyahu’s political future would compound the uncertainty surrounding prospects for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed in 2014.
If he steps down, a successor from within his Likud party would need the support of the party’s central committee, which passed a non-binding resolution in December calling for annexation of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, captured by Israel in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want for a future state.
Recent tensions along the Syrian and Lebanese borders have not so far proved to be a major factor in domestic political calculations, as even Mr Netanyahu’s political opponents say they do not believe his legal troubles would affect his decision-making on security matters.
How significant would his potential departure be?
Mr Netanyahu has been a dominant figure in Israeli politics for decades.
He’ll become Israel’s longest-serving leader if he survives until the next elections, which are due in 2019.
A familiar figure in Washington dating back to the 1980s Reagan administration, Mr Netanyahu most recently had a strained relationship with President Barack Obama, especially over his opposition to the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
But he has been much closer to Mr Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump.
So who are the potential successors?
Opinion polls suggest that Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid opposition party, is the strongest candidate to succeed Mr Netanyahu if he is forced out.
Within Likud, a number of members of his cabinet are vying to succeed him, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz and former Education Minister Gideon Saar.
None has shown strong signs of planning to depart significantly from Mr Netanyahu’s policies.
Outside the party, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett are possible candidates. Both head far-right parties in Mr Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
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