Were there significant diplomatic moves under way with the Palestinians, then the police recommendation on Tuesday evening to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery and breach of trust would be even more significant.
This type of recommendation could very well have derailed a diplomatic process, as was the case in the winter of 2008, when the police recommended indicting prime minister Ehud Olmert just as he was in the midst of intense negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, presenting the Palestinian Authority president – through a hand-drawn map on the back of a napkin – with a plan for the near total withdrawal from the West Bank.
Abbas never responded to the offer, and one of the reasons given later was because he knew that Olmert was in no position – with one foot out the door – to deliver on his promises.
But such is not the case today, since there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians to speak of, and since Netanyahu never made any such promises to Abbas. As such, Tuesday’s bombshell announcement will have no immediate impact on the Israeli-Palestinian track, because nothing is happening there.
Outside of Ramallah, in capitals around the world, policy-makers will be watching the developments very carefully. But there too it is unlikely to have any immediate impact on Israel’s diplomatic position for two reasons:
The first is that these relations – for the most part – are with Israel, and not with any one leader. US President Donald Trump, for example, will be sympathetic toward Israel regardless of who is prime minister.
Even regarding relations with countries like India – where the personal dynamic between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been very important in moving the relationship forward – the ties are unlikely to change because of a change at the top, because these ties are very much based on the interests of both countries. They are interest, not personality, based.
The second reason that Tuesday’s announcement is unlikely to have any significant diplomatic impact for Israel is that ambassadors stationed here are undoubtedly sending cables back to their home capitals reminding them that it was only the opening shot of what now will certainly be a legal marathon that – despite the recommendations – may still lead to nothing.
These cables probably read something like this: “Don’t interfere in what is happening. Don’t express support or reservations. It is an internal Israeli matter.
“Continue with business as usual as long as there is no indictment. When will that be? It could take months. In the meantime, this will take up much of Netanyahu’s time and energy, and he will not have patience for anything but what is of utmost importance. If and when there is an indictment, we will need to reevaluate matters then.”
In other words, it is unlikely foreign governments – knowing how these developments have ended in the past – will quickly be counting Netanyahu out. Especially following Netanyahu’s speech after the recommendations, in which he exuded confidence and pledged not only to finish this term, but to win yet another.
The question that leaders around the world will be asking is whether – with this recommendation – Netanyahu will be able to govern effectively. What matters to a leader like Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, is not a police recommendation to indict on bribery charges, but rather whether or not Netanyahu still calls the shots. If he is calling the shots, if he remains in complete control, then Putin won’t be bothered by what the police say.
That is true of other world leaders as well. The question that they will be asking themselves is simple: “Does he rule? Can he deliver?”
If, from their perspective, Netanyahu can continue to manage affairs and make the key decisions on what matters to them most, then the police recommendations will have little impact. If, however, they see that the locus of power has shifted, that may change how they look at him.
Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday evening sent a message both to the domestic audience, as well as to the international community: I am not going anywhere. I am still in charge. I am still your address and will be for years to come.
On Thursday Netanyahu will travel to Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference, and meet there with a number of world leaders. Count on him trying to impress upon them the idea that he is still very much in charge.
The international community, at least until an indictment is served, will take him at his word – unless proven otherwise.