The Blue and White party on Sunday said it would seek the ouster of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein should he veto the party’s move to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity, after Edelstein appeared to stall for time by asking a legal adviser for more information about his powers.
Blue and White presented Edelstein Sunday with what it said was support from 65 MKs to convene a committee to discuss the immunity request, but Edelstein responded by asking the Knesset’s legal adviser, who had also okayed the move, for more information on whether he had powers to green-light or block the panel from forming.
“Edelstein cannot desecrate the holy of holies of Israeli democracy,” Blue and White said in a statement. “We call on him to allow the formation of the House Committee to discuss Netanyahu’s immunity request. We cannot allow the Knesset to become a refuge for a bribery suspect.
“Edelstein, you were chosen as Knesset speaker, not Netanyahu’s man in the Knesset. You must act accordingly,” the party said.
Should Edelstein take action to obstruct the consideration of Netanyahu’s immunity, “we will fight the decision, either with his ouster from the position or through legal means in the High Court of Justice,” an unnamed Blue and White official told the Walla news site on Sunday.
Edelstein could be suspended or fired by parliamentary majority.
Benny Gantz’s centrist party said earlier that it had the support of more than enough lawmakers to convene a committee to discuss Netanyahu’s immunity, as the Knesset’s legal adviser also gave a green light for the move.
The announcements marked a possible setback for Netanyahu, moving the Knesset one step closer to quickly deliberating and almost certainly rejecting his request to be shielded from prosecution in three criminal cases that could spell the end of his political career.
Blue and White said it was presenting Knesset Speaker Edelstein with letters from factions heads representing 65 MKs calling for the immediate establishment of a committee to weigh immunity for the prime minister from prosecution.
But it remains unclear whether Edelstein, a Likud lawmaker, will obstruct the process.
Edelstein met on Sunday with Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, who heads the Knesset Arrangements Committee, and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon. He requested another legal opinion from Yinon outlining his powers on whether he could block the convening of the arrangements panel, which would create the House Committee to debate the prime minister’s immunity.
According to the Knesset legal adviser, Netanyahu’s request [Hebrew] must be weighed by the House Committee before it can be voted upon by the whole plenum. Due to the lack of a functioning legislature amid a year-long ongoing political deadlock, and with new elections set for March 2, there is currently no functioning House Committee to consider the request.
In a legal opinion released Sunday, Knesset adviser Yinon said there was no legal obstacle stopping the lawmakers from setting up a House Committee to decide on immunity for Netanyahu, assuming there was majority support for such a move.
He also said that the Knesset could not be compelled to set up a committee, despite the charges against the premier and his request for immunity, possibly giving Edelstein room to refuse to allow the process to go forward.
Likud MK Miki Zohar, the faction whip, derided the Knesset legal adviser for his opinion that the panel could convene before the upcoming elections.
“To allow the Knesset to be used as a political card by the left during an election recess is hugely absurd,” Zohar said.
Netanyahu requested immunity last week, but is reportedly banking on lawmakers being unable to swiftly set up a committee and discuss his request, thus pushing off the process until after the March elections. As Knesset speaker, Edelstein must okay any meeting of Nissenkorn’s Arrangements Committee, which deals with procedural parliamentary issues such as the makeup of other committees and is needed to create the House Committee.
Since Netanyahu currently doesn’t have a majority of 61 lawmakers to support his immunity request, his Likud party wants the decision on the matter to be delayed until the next Knesset, hoping such a majority could then be found within a more amenable set of lawmakers.
Last week, Blue and White fumed that Edelstein was delaying proceedings to shield Netanyahu, after the speaker refused to consider the request.
Avigdor Liberman, whose right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party currently holds the balance of power should an immunity vote be held, has aligned with Blue and White on the matter and vowed Wednesday to block the protection for the premier.
Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and has accused police and state prosecutors of an “attempted coup” against him.
Under a 2005 change to the Knesset immunity law, members of the legislature no longer receive automatic immunity from prosecution but must request it from the plenum when relevant.
Netanyahu’s request, made last week, essentially sets up the upcoming March 2 election as a referendum on him and his legal troubles. The Likud leader’s allies have presented the police probes and judicial proceedings as an undemocratic attempt to remove him from power and have begun campaigning on the idea of voting Likud as a way of protecting the prime minister from prosecution.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.