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Netanyahu says government 'stable' after police recommend his indictment

Netanyahu says government coalition 'stable' after police recommend he be indicted on several charges for corruption, February 14, 2018
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Bennett, a key coalition member, confirms will remain in government but also criticized Netanyahu's behavior

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on claim that "nothing will come" of police indictment recommendations passed Tuesday, calling accusations of bribery, breach of trust, and fraud against him "biased, ugly, and against the facts" in a defiant speech at a Tel Aviv political event on Wednesday.

Netanyahu again came out swinging, harshly criticizing the police investigations against him while making clear he has no intention of resigning. His governing coalition, seen as the most right-wing in Israeli history, appears firm for now, but reactions from key members in the coming days will be watched closely for signs of fissures.

"I can reassure you that the coalition is stable," Netanyahu said. "Neither me nor anyone else has plans for elections. We're going to continue to work together for the good of Israeli citizens until the end of the term."

Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of nearly 12 years, also harshly denounced the police recommendations against him as "full of holes, like Swiss cheese."

He said the police report "misleads" and is "contrary to the truth and logic."

Jack GUEZ (AFP/File)

Referring mainly to suspicions that he received gifts such as expensive champagne and cigars from wealthy businessmen in exchange for advancing their interests -- the focus of a police investigation known as "Case 1000", Netanyahu said police recommendations ignore how he and those whom he is suspected of taking bribes from had "a twenty years long friendship".

"We both exchanged gifts as private citizens long before I became Prime Minister," Netanyahu said.

"It is absurd to say I received bribes from Arnon Milchan, as my policies mostly went against his interests, for instance I worked to break up his monopolies," Netanyahu said.

"I always work in the interest of the Israeli economy," he added. "Neither me nor anyone else has plans for elections. We're going to continue to work together for the good of Israeli citizens until the end of the term."

Ministers close to him also defended Netanyahu.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a key coalition minister, made clear on Wednesday he was remaining in the government, though he also criticized Netanyahu's behavior.

"A prime minister is not meant to be perfect or live an over-modest lifestyle, but he needs to be someone people look at and say: 'This is how one should act'," Bennett said, speaking shortly after Netanyahu at the same Tel Aviv event.

- (POOL/AFP/File)

"Taking gifts in large sums over a long period of time is not living up to this standard," he added, while stressing Netanyahu was innocent until proven guilty and that he would wait for the attorney general's decision.

Bennett, who has ambitions to be prime minister, heads the far-right party Jewish Home, which holds eight seats in parliament.

Netanyahu's coalition controls 66 out of 120 seats in total.

Bennett stressed that Israel was a state of law, and that the Prime Minister was still presumed innocent and called on legal institutions to be respected.

"Israel Police cannot be accused of 'overthrowing' the government. I trust the policemen and the Chief of Police," he said. "We have a good government, dealing with security, economy and everything else. Replacing it should be done at the voting station."

Police recommended on Tuesday that he be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust after a long-running investigation.

The attorney general must now decide how to move forward with the case, a process that could take months.

A prime minister facing such police recommendations or who has been formally charged is not obliged to resign.

Jack GUEZ (AFP)

But his political opponents pounced on the opportunity to call on Netanyahu to step down.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Labor party, said the "Netanyahu era is over".

Tzipi Livni, part of the main opposition Zionist Union alliance that also includes Labor, criticized what she called a campaign to undermine the police.

Police have been investigating Netanyahu over suspicions that he and his family received expensive gifts from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

The gifts allegedly included pricey cigars, jewellery and champagne.

The total value of the gifts received between 2007 and 2016 is estimated at around one million shekels (229,000 euros, $283,000), according to police.

They have also been probing allegations Netanyahu sought a secret deal for favourable coverage with the publisher of top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

Police recommended indicting Milchan and the publisher, Arnon Moses, with bribery as well.

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

The 68-year-old premier has been questioned seven times by police over the allegations and has called the investigation an attempt by political opponents to force him from office.

Police said Netanyahu had been suspected of trying to help Milchan receive tax benefits in Israel, of assisting him in receiving a visa in the United States and of promoting his business interests.

Milchan, who is Israeli, has produced many films, including the blockbuster "Pretty Woman".

While an indictment alone would not legally oblige Netanyahu to resign, he would likely face mounting pressure to do so. He would be legally forced to step down if he were convicted and all appeals were exhausted.

He has already faced a series of large protests in Tel Aviv over the corruption cases.

Netanyahu's time as premier is fast approaching Israel's revered founding father David Ben-Gurion's 13 years. He first held the office from 1996-1999 before returning to power in 2009.

(Staff with AFP)

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