Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon earned a valuable reprieve on Tuesday when the country’s attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, dismissed corruption charges that had been leveled at Sharon. Mazuz issued a 76-page statement stating that there was insufficient evidence to go forward with a trial. The charges involved Sharon’s dealings with David Appel, a businessman who may have bribed the prime minister through his son, Gilad Sharon, in an effort to develop a Greek island into a tourist resort. While Sharon could still face other charges, the announcement was a major lift as he tries to hold together his ruling coalition and pursue his plan to disengage from the Palestinians.
The news was striking because of the strong rejection Mazuz gave to Edna Arbel, a former prosecutor who had argued in March that the claims were well worth an indictment. Israel’s press was torn over the decision, which has come through at a critical period for Sharon. A Jerusalem Post op-ed offered the reasoned argument that “We see no reason to disbelieve Mazuz, yet it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that either he or Arbel were terribly off the mark.” The Post went on to lament the highly politicized nature of the decision and suggested that it was influenced by the Israeli press.
Sharon has won back some support from the media in recent months for his disengagement plan, which involves dismantling some Israeli settlements in contested territory. One Ha’aretz op-ed even suggested that he undertook the new initiative as a way to escape prosecution, since it would endear him to the attorney general. The piece argued that Sharon can now “walk tall” and confront his many challenges. Ha’aretz carried a bevy of op-ed pieces the day after Mazuz’s announcement. Some of them were not as kind—one opinion piece listed several indemnifying pieces of evidence against Sharon that were not addressed by Mazuz and another called his conduct “disgraceful,” if not criminal. “If the questions are not about the cleanliness of the prime minister’s hands, then they are certainly about his cleanliness of mind.” A third blamed Mazuz for ignoring the recommendations of state prosecutors and selecting an entirely new legal team to consider the question.
Everyone agreed that the legal fight is not yet over. A Ha’aretz op-ed suggested that the decision will probably be challenged in the High Court of Justice, but that “court intervention in such decisions is fairly rare.” An opinion in Maariv called for action: “According to Mazuz, a whole generation of district prosecutors has come to the end of the road. … Edna Arbel and her colleagues must pick up the gauntlet.” Another Maariv opinion lamented the state of Israel’s courts: “[I]t seems that legal standards of evidence do not apply to the Sharon and Netanyahu families. Merely mentioning them makes judges lose their senses.” Another opinion writer in Yediot Aharonot warned that “the Greek island affair is now behind Sharon, but the Greek tragedy is ahead of him” (courtesy BBC Monitoring).