"I have no intention of resigning. I believe that nothing will come of it. I have not changed my stance. Israel is a country ruled by law; a prime minister does not resign when there is a hearing proceeding in progress. Imagine what happens if a prime minster is deposed because of a hearing and then after the hearing it is decided to close the case. It's not right to open a hearing proceeding during an election campaign, it's damaging to democracy," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference held yesterday in Brazil, where he is paying an official visit.
In response to remarks by Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked that this is his last term, Netanyahu said, "Since 1996 they have been saying about me that this is my last term. It is not this or that politician who decides whether you are worthy, but the citizens of Israel."
Q. You said of another prime minister (Olmert) that he was up to his neck in investigations and that he could not continue in office. What do you say today?
Netanyahu: "The statement you cite related to diplomatic steps that Olmert intended to take on the eve of the election. In the situation he was in at the time, I did not say that he was disqualified, but that he could not push through a diplomatic plan on the eve of the election, and nor will I push through a diplomatic plan on the eve of the election. Whoever sits with me in the most sensitive discussions, and time and again the military heads and politicians will say it, remarks that I make decisions in a businesslike way and according to what I think is right for the State of Israel. I weigh things up, because the responsibility on my shoulders is huge."
On the Bezeq case, in which he is suspected, as minister of communications, of having given regulatory benefits to then Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in return for favorable coverage on Bezeq-controlled news website Walla!, Netanyahu said, "I gave no special benefits. I approved a decision made by three regulators, after the antitrust commissioner, the Cable and Satellite Council, and the Ministry of Communications legal adviser."
On his legal situation, Netanyahu said, "They'll try to finish me off and say that Netanyahu is guilty until proved innocent, but I place my trust in the truth and in justice, and the public's choice, the public will decide. In the State of Israel things are determined at the ballot box and not in legal proceedings."
Commenting on the new political party, the New Right, formed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu said, "One danger is that it will fracture the right-wing block, and the second danger is that no-one knows what they will do with the seats they win. As in their alliance with Lapid, they could switch from right to left. Whoever wants a government of the right has to vote Likud. We shall form a government on the basis of the existing coalition. I'm aware of the fact that the new party puts at risk several parties around it that will perhaps not pass the minimum vote threshold. We shall behave responsibly for the right-wing block."
Do you plan consolidation with other parties?
"I'll consider it seriously in the light of the danger."
If Bennett and Shaked win Knesset seats, will you bring them into the coalition? Will you bring in Benny Gantz?
""I'll bring anyone on the right into the government. Were it not for Yair Lapid and the alliance of brothers - or of sisters - were it not for that, I wouldn't be worried. As for Gantz, in my experience, anyone who doesn't say whether he's left or right is usually on the left. Everyone knows where his party's center of gravity is. I say to him, be open about your policy.
"Citizens who look at Israel's situation on the global level will understand that our country needs a leader of international standing, who is capable of talking to Trump, who is capable of talking to great powers. Leaders of powerful countries come to me and ask for help in talking to these two leaders, Trump and Putin. Are there others with abilities at this level? Unfortunately not. Anyone can try. What a prime minister of Israel has to do is to utter one word and stand by it, 'No.'. I stood before the countries of the world and I said no; I went to Congress and I said no. I don't think that others would do this. It takes ability and a certain passion."
Concerning the sensitive security situation that he spoke of after Avigdor Liberman resigned as minister of defense, Netanyahu said, "Hezbollah had an infrastructure and we destroyed it. This is a mighty victory for Israel. Apart from that, there are some other things, and you hear about other things here and there, but the really important thing was to finish that operation."
The New Right party said in response to Netanyahu; "We will not be dragged into the prime minister's attacks on us. We are preventing the seats that have left the Likud from going to the left-wing block of Gantz, Lapid, and Orly Levy, and we suggest to the prime minister that he should join us in this mission."
MK Shelly Yachimovich, who chairs the Knesset State Control Committee, said, "Netanyahu's impudent statements amount to incitement against the authority of all arms of the rule of law and endanger democracy. The threatening statement that the Attorney General must not decide on the cases concerning him before the election is a test of the clean hands of every party from the entire political spectrum, and whoever does not announce explicitly that he will not sit in a government with someone who is the subject of a criminal proceeding is whitewashing corruption for the sake of purely political considerations."
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said, "Netanyahu's statement this evening that he can serve while under indictment is moral bankruptcy and proof that he has lost the brakes, and that the only thing that concerns him is to save himself from the criminal cases and not the good of the country."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 1, 2019
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