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Amid corruption charges, is Israel’s era of Netanyahu over?

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became his country’s first sitting leader to be indicted. The announcement came just a day after opposition leader Benny Gantz lost his mandate to form a unity government. As a result, Israel is entering a new phase of political uncertainty. William Brangham reports and talks to David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we mentioned earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting leader of Israel to be indicted.

    The announcement came just a day after opposition leader Benny Gantz lost his mandate to form a unity government. Now Israel is entering a new phase of political uncertainty.

    William Brangham examines the fallout.

  • William Brangham:

    In Israel today, two major political events converged. The sitting prime minister gets indicted at the very same moment that his main challenger misses his deadline to form a new government.

    Now, for the next three weeks, any member of the Israeli Knesset can try his or her hand at forming a coalition government. If that fails, Israel will face its third election in less than one year.

    For more on these developments, I'm joined by David Makovsky. He's a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He's also the co-author of "Be Strong and of Good Courage," a book about Israeli leaders who made historic decisions.

    David, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Obviously, a tremendous day for Israeli politics. This indictment against Netanyahu has been threatened for months, but, today, it drops.

    Can you remind us, what is the allegation against him?

  • David Makovsky:

    There's actually three cases against him, and each one of the cases has components.

    The third case, which is the most serious one because it includes bribery, is that there would be regulatory favors of about $500 million to the Bezeq utility, like the AT&T of Israel, in return for the Bezeq Web site, you know, giving Netanyahu basically the keys to the Web site.

  • William Brangham:

    So, Netanyahu says — he denies all of this, says it's all lies.

  • David Makovsky:

    Right.

  • William Brangham:

    He says it's a political hit. He says it's time to investigate the investigators, which is certainly rhetoric we have heard here, stateside.

    Is the evidence against him strong? Is this a legitimate case?

  • David Makovsky:

    Look, I think the public thinks so.

    I mean, you have got 46 percent of the public that is calling on him to resign. And they have heard a lot of this. I think, look, it's one day, a very sad day for Israel, that a sitting prime minister is being indicted.

    At the same time, I think it's a really important day, that Israel's legal law enforcement institutions have proven to be resilient, despite a lot of partisan attacks.

    That's something that also resonates in our own country.

  • William Brangham:

    As I mentioned before, this comes at an incredible moment in Israeli politics, where his rival, Benny Gantz, has failed to create a coalition government of his own.

    Netanyahu is now weakened. What happens? What do you foresee happening in the next weeks and months?

  • David Makovsky:

    If this was — Israeli politics was a football game, we're now entering overtime.

    There's, by law, a 21-day period that any party can put together a government. And, basically, there had been a lot of talk of a power-sharing arrangement between Gantz's centrist government and the Likud on the right.

    There have been two sticking points. What we don't know, whether the terms of the power-sharing agreement, whether he goes first in that power-sharing agreement. And in terms of the composition of the government, will it include Ultra Orthodox and settlers that Netanyahu has insisted upon?

    What we don't know is if today shifts the political dynamic towards Gantz and forcing Netanyahu to concede those two key points in the next 21 days. And if that is not the case, then there will be, believe it or not, a third election.

    The joke in Israel, Israelis like to see themselves as the only democracy in the Middle East, but having three elections back to back is a bit ridiculous.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • William Brangham:

    I know there's a lot of people that have lost a lot of money trying to bet against Bibi Netanyahu.

    Do you think, if you were a betting man, he survives this?

  • David Makovsky:

    Look, he is an extraordinary politician. He's a master communicator. And it's hard to completely bet against him.

    But if he would run for a third time as his way out of this, he'd be now running at a — it would be a much steeper climb. If I did have a bet, I think the Netanyahu era as we have seen it over certainly the last 10 years is coming to an end.

    If he limps along in a power-sharing agreement for another year, OK, but it's not under the terms that Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics over the last decade.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, David Makovsky, thank you very much.

  • David Makovsky:

    Delighted to be with you.

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