Benjamin Netanyahu was back in court for his corruption trial on Monday as the country’s political parties were set to weigh in on whether he should form the next government after a closely divided election or step down to focus on his legal woes.
Between witness testimony in a Jerusalem courtroom and the consultations at the president’s office across town, it promised to be a day of extraordinary political drama, bringing into sharp focus Netanyahu’s increasingly desperate efforts to stay in power.
He is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and has clung to power through four hard-fought elections in less than two years.
After each election, Israel’s president is responsible for designating a party leader to try to put together a governing majority. That decision is usually clear cut, but Rivlin faces a difficult choice given the fragmented election results that left the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, divided between 13 parties with broad ideological differences.
Neither Netanyahu’s allies nor his foes secured a governing majority. So his fate could come down to Naftali Bennett, a right-wing former ally with whom he has strained ties, and Mansour Abbas, the leader of a small Arab Islamist party who also has yet to commit to either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs.
At the Jerusalem District Court, Netanyahu sat with his lawyers as lead prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari read out the charges against him.
“The relationship between Netanyahu and the defendants became currency, something that could be traded,” she said. “The currency could distort a public servant’s judgment.”
Netanyahu’s lawyers sought to make a rebuttal but were cut off by Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, who said they had already responded to the charges earlier in the trial. The judge then ordered a brief recess, during which Netanyahu left the courthouse.