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Israeli PM remains defiant as opposition hails ‘end of Netanyahu’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he gives a speech to the foreign media during the annual GPO (government press office) New Year's toast in Jerusalem on January 10, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to stay in office just minutes after police recommended indicting him for bribery in two criminal investigations, while members of the opposition are hailing the "end of Netanyahu."

Now that the police recommendations have been made public, Netanyahu has to wait for a final decision by Israel's attorney-general to see if he will face actual charges.

The first of the recommendations made on Tuesday night, dubbed Case 1000, alleges the "committing of crimes of bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the prime minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu." Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by different businessmen, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

The second recommendation, Case 2000, alleges "bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the prime minister" and by the publisher of the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes.

Case 2000 focuses on an alleged clandestine deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the 68-year-old chairman of the Likud party promised Mozes he would support a bill to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the Hebrew-language freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for favorable coverage of himself in Yedioth.

According to a police statement, Netanyahu had accepted gifts valued at 750,000 shekels ($214,000) from Milchan, and 250,000 shekels (or $71,000) from Packer. The gifts from Milchan reportedly included expensive cigars and champagne.

Likud ministers also blasted Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, who police revealed as a key witness in Case 1000 on Tuesday. Culture Minister Miri Regev, Amsalem and Levin attacked Lapid, calling him a snitch, and saying that the reveal of Lapid's true colors was Tuesday's "only revelation."

Labor Member of Knesset Shelly Yacimovich wrote on Twitter that Netanyahu is a corrupt tyrant, with "violent and egotistic behavior" who will do anything to survive.

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Just minutes after the recommendations were made, Netanyahu appeared in a live broadcast in which he claimed that he had never sought personal gain during his services as prime minister. "I will continue to lead Israel responsibly and faithfully for as long as you, the citizens of Israel choose me to lead you," he said.

"I am certain, I am certain, that the truth will be revealed, and I am certain that at the next elections, which will be held on schedule, I will earn your trust again," he added.

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay said that "the Netanyahu era is over, either at the ballot box or through investigations." He added that the prime minister tarnished the rule of law by trying to limit the investigators and to encourage public distrust in their conclusions.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a rival of Netanyahu, called on him to suspend himself and for the coalition to appoint a replacement on Wednesday morning.

“The depth of corruption is horrifying,” Barak said. “This does not look like nothing. This looks like bribery.”

Over the past few months, thousands of Israelis have been rallying outside the house of Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit in the city of Petah Tikva every week to call for Netanyahu's prosecution.

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