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>JN April 23, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 72
Israel in the Wake of Netanyahu's Problems
By Deborah Cooper (VOA-Washington)
Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not face
criminal charges for now in the political scandal which has rocked
his government, it's not so certain what impact the affair will
have on his ability to lead.
Israel's chief prosecutors cited insufficient evidence as the
reason for not indicting Netanyahu on fraud and breach of trust
charges as Israeli police had recommended. The affair stems from
allegations against Netanyahu that he appointed an attorney general
in January under pressure from the leader of the ultra-religious
Shas party. Its leader Aryeh Deri has been implicated in the same
case and may be indicted on charges of fraud, extortion and
obstruction of justice.
Deri, it is alleged, expected favorable treatment from the
appointment of Roni Bar on as attorney general in his ongoing trial
for corruption in another matter. The Shas party controls 10 seats
in the Israeli Knesset and could cause the collapse of the fragile
Likud-led coalition should it withdraw its support.
George Washington University Prof. Bernard Reich says even without
an indictment of Netanyahu the issue is not dead. "This is a
combination of legal and political questions. The problem of course
is that even though the prime minister is not going to be charged,
certainly there are questions about the mechanisms that were used
for choosing members of the government at senior ranks, certainly
the opposition will continue to press this issue on all counts as
far as it can.
"Clearly, the Labor party has made it obvious that a national unity
government is not in the cards in the moment. Shimon Peres who is
still the leader of the Labor party has called for early elections.
There will be a continuing set of efforts on both sides to take
advantage of the issue and on the other hand to try and prevent it
from further hurting the government or reducing its powers."
Reich adds that for now there is no imminent danger of the
government collapsing. But the continued loyalty of some parties
that make up the ruling coalition is not certain.
"Certainly the status of the Shas party in the government,
considering the fact that its leader Mr. Deri is, of course, likely
to be indicted. That will raise major questions and the Shas party
does control 10 seats in parliament which are critical. At the same
time it may well be that the party of Mr. Sharansky will also
reassess exactly where it wants to be in the broad scheme of
things, although for now it seems to be fairly straightforward that
it will remain in the government."
Reich is referring to the Russian immigrant party of Natan
Sharansky which controls seven seats in the Israeli parliament.
Sharansky says that his party will demand political reform in
exchange for its continued support of the government.
Netanyahu has pledged to continue with the peace process despite
his domestic problems. But some political analysts speculate that
with a weakened government, Netanyahu may find it very difficult to
make any further concessions to the Palestinians. Reich suspects
the political scandal will postpone any movement that might
generate a breakthrough in the peace process.
"Clearly, the fact that the Labor party will now not even consider
a national unity government does weaken one approach to the peace
process. Secondly, the prime minister still has to get things back
under control and he has to see what impact this will all have with
regard to the size of his coalition and in fact the actual
distribution of it. Until he's certain that he can move ahead with
his existing policies he's going to be a bit more cautious. I think
we're going to see the process slow down for a while I think we're
not likely to see any particular movement in the short term and all
of that I think will effect the process.
"As long as Labor and the other opposition parties continue to push
on the existing issue this is likely to preoccupy the prime
minister, and until the indictments are determined, until the
judicial process moves ahead he certainly is going to focus and
watch on that more carefully in the short term. And the peace
process will just linger I suspect a bit longer."
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