Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's legal and political troubles play out simultaneously on Monday (April 5), in a Jerusalem courtroom and in the official residence of Israel's president.
Judges have ordered Netanyahu to be in court for the prosecution's opening argument at his corruption trial. At the same time, and just blocks away, President Reuven Rivlin will consult with political parties over who he should tap to try to form a government after an inconclusive election on March 23.
At the previous session of his trial in February, Netanyahu pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The court will begin hearing witnesses after prosecutors make their statements.
What's It All About?
The trial involves three cases against Israel's longest-serving leader:
Prosecutors allege Netanyahu granted regulatory favours worth around 1.8 billion shekels (about $500 million) to telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel.
In return, prosecutors say, he sought positive coverage of himself and wife Sara on a news website controlled by the company's former chairman, Shaul Elovitch.
In this case, Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery and obstruction of justice. The couple deny wrongdoing.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust over allegations that he and his wife wrongfully received almost 700,000 shekels ($210,000) worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and an Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer.
Prosecutors said gifts included champagne and cigars and that Netanyahu helped Milchan with his business interests. Packer and Milchan face no charges.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu negotiated a deal with Arnon Mozes, owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage and in return offered legislation that would slow the growth of a rival newspaper. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust. Mozes has been charged with offering a bribe, and denies wrongdoing.
What Does Netanyahu Say?
He contends he is the victim of a politically orchestrated "witch hunt" by the left and media to oust him from office, and that receiving gifts from friends is not against the law.
Will A Verdict Come Soon?
Unlikely. The trial could take years. But proceedings could be cut short if Netanyahu seeks a plea deal.
What Penalties Could Netanyahu Face?
Bribery charges carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years and/or a fine. Fraud and breach of trust are punishable by up to three years in jail.
How Has He Remained In Office?
Under Israeli law, a prime minister is under no obligation to stand down unless convicted. No other minister is protected in this way, so there are legal and political reasons why Netanyahu wants to stay at the top.
Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty. He contends he is the victim of a politically orchestrated "witch hunt" by the left and media to oust him, and that receiving gifts from friends is not against the law.
Do Israelis Care?
Yes. The corruption case was a polarising issue in recent elections.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered weekly outside his official residence and across Israel under the banner of "Crime Minister", demanding he quit.
But his right-wing voter base sees "King Bibi" as strong on security and an influential voice for Israel abroad.
Meanwhile, Israel is facing unprecedented political paralysis, an economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus, a new U.S. administration hoping to revive nuclear talks with Iran and a looming International Criminal Court war crimes investigation.