Netanyahu’s in Trouble

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JERUSALEM: Benjamin Netanyahu's shaky governing coalition is on the verge of imploding on news that police have recommended indictments of the Prime Minister, his justice minister, and a top aide for breach of trust in an influence-trading scandal. State Attorney Edna Arbel is expected to decide by Monday whether to hand down criminal indictments. "It seems inevitable that there will be indictments," says TIME's Bruce Nelan. "What will be more difficult to prove is that knowledge of the deal reached Netanyahu." The allegations are that Netanyahu, struggling to cobble together support for the Hebron pullout, secured crucial votes from the religious Shas party by appointing an attorney general, Roni Bar-On, who in turn was to help Shas leader Aryeh Deri escape corruption charges of his own. Netanyahu, who called for the investigation, maintains that he has done nothing wrong. Even if indicted, he would face no legal obligation to resign. But from a governing standpoint, says Nelan, Bibi's end may be near: "Netanyahu may escape indictment, but his government seems destined to come apart." The Prime Minister has survived so far by managing to satisfy both the moderate and conservative extremes of his ever-tenuous coalition. But with the stench of this scandal now firmly on Netanyahu's clothes, he is likely to be deserted by both. Four ministers, including Natan Sharansky of the seven-seat Yisrael B'Aliya Party, are expected to leave the coalition if any indictments are handed down, and the Shas party should join them if Deri is indicted as expected. "Netanyahu cannot rule effectively from a minority," says Nelan, "and we may even see him ousted by his own party. Netanyahu is tough, will no doubt try to remain. But right now, it seems that there will soon be new elections in Israel."