New Right party backs Netanyahu as next PM, despite pending indictment

“Until a final indictment is filed, there is nothing to discuss,” Naftali Bennett said.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

New Right party leader Naftali Bennett says that his faction will support Benjamin Netanyahu as the next prime minister despite Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement on Thursday that the premier faces an indictment on corruption charges in three different cases pending a hearing.

“Until a final indictment is filed, there is nothing to discuss,” Bennett told Kan public radio. “We will tell the president we recommend Netanyahu to form the government.”

Bennett is a member of the current government coalition, serving as education and diaspora affairs minister.

Under Israeli law, the parliamentary election is followed by a process in which each party voted into the Knesset recommends to the president which party leader should be given the task of trying to form a majority coalition. The presidency is a ceremonial position in Israel currently held by Reuven Rivlin.

If an indictment is eventually filed, the New Right will then meet to decide what to do, Bennett added. However, Kan television reported on Friday that the process of granting Netanyahu a hearing is expected to take several months, long after the April 9 election.

The attorney general decision’s announcement had an immediate impact on public opinion polls.

For the first time in this election campaign, Netanyahu’s Likud party was no longer leading the pack. It was overtaken by the new joint list headed by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, which received 36 and 37 seats respectively in the 120-seat parliament in two surveys aired on Kan and Channel 13. The Likud registered 29 and 30 seats in the two polls.

In addition, Gantz took the lead on the question of whom Israelis would prefer as prime minister. The lead was very slim, however, with 41 percent of respondents picking Gantz and 40 percent choosing Netanyahu. The two had been neck-in-neck previously as well.

The charges against Netanyahu include bribery in one of the three cases. It is the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister faces indictment, though Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, Ehud Olmert who was indicted and later went to jail, had resigned as premier before the indictment was issued.