Netanyahu Survives

No Indictment: Despite Political Damage, Israel's Prime Minister Keeps Coalition Intact.

April 22, 1997

THE WAR OF WORDS between the ruling Likud coalition and the opposition Labor Party regarding government corruption is not over. But unless Israel's Supreme Court unexpectedly overturns the prosecutors' decision not to indict Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister's worst crisis seems to be over. His ability to keep his coalition together strengthens that assessment.

This is bad news for the Labor Party's Shimon Peres, who has never quite gotten over his narrow loss to Mr. Netanyahu nearly a year ago. He has been smelling blood since a January report that a lawyer with close ties to the prime minister, Roni Bar-On, had been appointed attorney general so as to secure a plea bargain for one of Mr. Netanyahu's political allies, who was facing corruption charges.

Mr. Peres, not surprisingly, is now calling for Mr. Netanyahu's resignation, saying, "There may not be enough evidence to put him on trial, but there is plenty of evidence to put him to trial by the voters. It is unthinkable that we have a prime minister who functions under such shadows, though his guilt cannot be proven."

The scandal has damaged Mr. Netanyahu but did not destroy him. Like many other politicians around the world, he tried to describe the whole incident as a mere vendetta by sensation-seeking media. This prompted the Jerusalem Post to editorialize: "Netanyahu cannot ignore the fact that it was his nomination of an attorney general so glaringly lacking in qualifications that it invited suspicions that other motivations were involved. It is Netanyahu's fault that the legitimate explanations of the nomination stand like a weak reed against the suspicions of the media, the public, the police, the state attorney and the attorney general."

Since escaping prosecution over the weekend, Mr. Netanyahu has moved swiftly to show he has learned his lessons. He announced he was forming a new advisory committee on senior appointments and government procedures -- to make sure that the Bar-On controversy would not be repeated.

This was a ploy to satisfy his coalition partners who had threatened to quit over the scandal. But it was received well by Israelis: 58 percent of people polled by one newspaper said they did not think Mr. Nethanyahu's actions warranted his resignation.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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