Israel's Netanyahu in court as parties weigh in on his fate

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ABIR SULTAN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a hearing evidence stage for his trial over alleged corruption crimes, at the Jerusalem district court, in Salah El-Din, East Jerusalem, Monday, April 5, 2021. 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. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed Monday, with a key witness painting a picture of an image-obsessed Israeli leader forcing a prominent news site to flatter his family and smear his opponents.

The testimony came as Netanyahu’s chances of securing another term in office following last month’s parliamentary elections appeared to be dwindling in high-stakes political talks hosted by the country’s figurehead president just a few miles (kilometers) away.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu accused prosecutors of persecuting him in an attempt to undermine the will of the voters and to drive him out of office.

“This is what a coup attempt looks like," he said.

Taken together, the court testimony and political consultations pointed to an increasingly uphill struggle for Netanyahu as he fights for his political life.

In a post-election ritual, President Reuven Rivlin was consulting with the various parties elected to parliament before choosing a candidate to form a new government.

With both Netanyahu and his main rival, Yair Lapid, failing to gain the support of a majority of lawmakers, Rivlin faces a difficult task, and the country risks plunging into an unprecedented fifth consecutive election campaign in the coming weeks.

Late on Wednesday, Lapid called on the country's anti-Netanyahu factions — a patchwork of parties with vast ideological differences — to put aside their differences and form a unity government. He said he had even offered Naftali Bennett, leader of a small right-wing party, a power-sharing rotation, with Bennett serving first as prime minister.