Netanyahu at bay as graft row worsens

The political future of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, is in increasing doubt after the disclosure at the weekend that police warned him he might face criminal charges over the long-running scandal surrounding the appointment as attorney-general of a party hack sympathetic to the legal problems of members of his government.

Mr Netanyahu's denial of personal responsibility for appointing Roni Bar-On, an obscure Jerusalem lawyer, to the post, exacerbated divisions in the cabinet. Mr Netanyahu's lawyer said he should not be blamed, because he was misled by Tzahi Hanegbi, the Justice Minister, about the acceptability of Mr Bar-On. Israeli television said, however, that when police questioned Mr Netanyahu about the affair they found his answers "evasive".

Whatever the outcome of the scandal, it has weakened Mr Netanyahu politically when he hoped to benefit from signing the Hebron agreement. Nahum Barnea, an Israeli columnist, wrote: "It is not Jerusalem which is really bothering Netanyahu right now, but rather the police investigation."

Three ministers have threatened to resign over the affair. Avigdor Kahalani, Minister of Internal Security, said that if the accusations turn out to be true "the government has no right to continue".

The police investigation started on 22 January, when Ayala Hasson, a reporter for Israeli television, alleged that Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party, which is in the ruling coalition, and who is on trial for corruption, had orchestrated the candidacy of Mr Bar-On, who held office for one day. The specific accusation was that Mr Deri had threatened to block the Hebron agreement with the Palestinians unless Mr Bar-On got the job and Mr Deri won a plea-bargain.

During the month-long police investigation it has become clear Mr Deri and others close to the government who were on trial or facing indictment were all involved in the appointment of Mr Bar-On. Worse, from Mr Deri's point of view, his own lawyer, Dan Avi-Yitzhak, resigned last week and denounced his former client.

Mr Netanyahu has fought his way out of tight corners before. But he has yet to come up with a convincing explanation of his determination to replace the previous attorney-general with somebody more malleable. During the first weeks of the investigation it appeared possible the Prime Minister would be unscathed by the police investigation. In questioning him about the affair, however, police say he repeatedly said: "I don't know" and "I don't recall." They then cautioned him that he might face criminal charges.

Following this disclosure, Nissim Zvilli, secretary-general of the Labour party, called for a fresh election, although Labour itself is divided. Mr Netanyahu has hired his own lawyer, Yaacov Weinroth, a top criminal attorney, who repeatedly implied over the weekend, in defence of his client, that the Prime Minister was misled by Mr Hanegbi. This may be good legal tactics if Mr Netanyahu's objective is to stay out of court, but he could pay a heavy political price for throwing one of his cabinet to the wolves.

Visiting King Hussein in Jordan over the weekend, Mr Netanyahu accused his opponents of counting him out too early. He said: "I intend to continue to lead the state of Israel. I heard the (opposition) is getting ready for new elections. I have good advice for you: `Wait. You have a good four years left in the opposition'."

The Prime Minister's office believes Mr Netanyahu is the victim of a campaign by the media. It particularly objects to analogies between Mr Netanyahu and President Richard Nixon during Watergate.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all