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Israeli press review: ‘The state of Israel against Netanyahu’ dominates headlines

Netanyahu’s last refuge seems to be the Likud. But even within his political party, ambitious politicians such as Gideon Saar are calling for leadership to form a government
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a meeting AFP)

Israeli media headlines on Friday had three main terms: Netanyahu, corruption and indictment.

The country is drumming up for a likely third election after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, former general Benny Gantz, both failed to form a government.

The political scene witnessed another major plot twist on Thursday when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that Netanyahu was indicted over charges of breach of trust, fraud and bribery - making him the first sitting premier in Israel's history to face indictment.

Netanyahu has been indicted. What next?
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Netanyahu's opponents, Gantz and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, played the corruption card against Netanyahu during the September election.

Both refused to form a national unity government with Netanyahu based on his corruption cases and his political alliances.

Netanyahu’s last refuge seems to be the Likud. But even within his political party, ambitious politicians such as Gideon Saar are calling for the party leadership to form a government.

However, Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister of Israel, is not a quitter - and the legal battle could take time before a final court ruling.

Meanwhile, Israeli media outlets have waded into the fray as the country enters unknown waters.

‘Investigate the investigators’

In response to the indictment, Netanyahu has called for an independent and public committee to "investigate the investigators”, calling the indictment a "coup".

“The public is entitled to a clean investigation that seeks the truth. The only way to restore confidence to the public is to establish an unbiased eternal public committee," he said. "It is time to investigate the investigators. It is time to investigate the attorney general's office.”

A high-ranking Israeli official in the legal system told Ynet that Netanyahu’s remarks on Thursday indicated he had no regards for the indictment against him.

The unnamed judge said that the power and authority of the prime minister, and elected members of government, should serve the public and “not to extricate themselves from a criminal charge”.

Appeal to Netanyahu to step down

Netanyahu holds four other Israeli offices: the Ministry of the Health, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Social Services, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Fraud, bribery, breach of trust: The cases against Netanyahu
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Members of the Blue and White political alliance appealed on Friday to Netanyahu, asking him to step down from these positions, Yisrael Hayom reported.

“According to the High Court ruling, an indicted minister will not be able to continue in his office, and therefore it is imperative that you immediately terminate your various positions as a minister in the Israeli government,” Blue and White's appeal said.

The leader of the New Right party Ayelet Shaked, a Netanyahu ally, said that Mandelblit was “direct and professional” and made decisions based on professional opinions and facts.

She said that Netanyahu could not take the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin, Kan website reported.

“I heard commentators talking about it… within 21 days, only Knesset members decide the mandate,” Shaked said.

She added that if a third election took place, only the Israeli public, not the court, could decide if Netanyahu continues in his position.

“There is no cause here for the intervention of the High Court,” Shaked said.

The state vs Netanyahu

"The state of Israel against Netanyahu": This was the splash headline of the Walla news site, summing up the political weather in Israel.

Netanyahu’s indictment means that he will not be given the mandate to form the next government, and it comes in a sensitive time as Israeli MPs are left with less than three weeks to decide for a third election or choose a leader to form a government.

Netanyahu, for the last three years, has always described the corruption cases against him as a “witch hunt” and denied any wrongdoing.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted and jailed on corruption charges after leaving the position in 2009.

Aluf Ben wrote in Haaretz that Netanyahu “prides himself in the speeches that he fought for the State of Israel, was wounded for her, and worked to strengthen her security, economy, and international standing”.

“In Netanyahu’s view, the continuation of his rule is above everything else, and anyone who doubts him is a traitor and subversive. Anyone who dared to investigate and prosecute him should be questioned, and probably go to jail for compromising state security,” Ben wrote.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.