Gantz: Israel is going to 3rd elections because Netanyahu wants immunity

Blue and White chair says PM plans to abuse parliamentary immunity laws to evade prosecution; Liberman: Both sides responsible for failure to form government

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) speaking at Knesset conference organized by Labor-Gesher MK Revital Swid (C) on 'protecting the rule of law,' December 11, 2019. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) speaking at Knesset conference organized by Labor-Gesher MK Revital Swid (C) on 'protecting the rule of law,' December 11, 2019. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

With just hours remaining until the Knesset likely calls Israel’s 3rd elections within a year, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz on Wednesday said that the country was only facing another vote because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, speaking at a Knesset conference on “protecting the rule of law” held by Labor-Gesher MK Revital Swid, said, “It now seems that we will be going into a third election cycle today because of Netanyahu’s attempt to obtain immunity.”

Addressing his own Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, meanwhile, chairman Avigdor Liberman placed the blame on both Blue and White and the Likud party, saying, “The two major parties, which together have 65 seats, are responsible.”

If no candidate receives the support of 61 MKs by midnight Wednesday, national elections will automatically be called. Due to various timing conflicts, the Knesset is voting throughout the day on a bill to set the date of the elections before the end of the currently mandated 90-day waiting period, on March 2.

Both Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud have said that they want a unity government, but Netanyahu has refused to step down and insisted on being prime minister for several months at the start of a rotational agreement, while Gantz has refused to serve in a government under Netanyahu until the premier’s legal status is cleared up.

Supreme Court Esther Hayut (C) is flanked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), and Benny Gantz (L), leader of Blue and White party, at a memorial ceremony for late president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

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.

Gantz said at the conference that Netanyahu is planning on abusing his parliamentary immunity in order to evade prosecution and that his “use of the immunity law is out of proportion.”

“We must stand in opposition of this,” Gantz said.

Netanyahu has not yet announced whether he we will seek immunity from prosecution, but is widely expected to do so.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit last week again presented Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein with the charge sheet against the prime minister, first issued on November 21, officially restarting the 30-day countdown Netanyahu has to request parliamentary immunity.

Because of Israel’s political deadlock, however, the immunity issue may not be discussed by the Knesset for months, delaying the formal filing of the charges against Netanyahu.

The Knesset House Committee, which weighs immunity requests, has been nonfunctional amid the political impasse resulting from two inconclusive elections. With third elections appearing likely, the committee could remain inactive for months to come. Eyal Yinon, the Knesset’s top legal adviser, ruled last week that Netanyahu’s indictment must be delayed until the House Committee decides on whether to extend the premier immunity.

Gantz said that the immunity laws are “not intended as immunity for Knesset members, but rather a means to enable them to perform their duties. We will work in this Knesset, should it hold up, or in the next Knesset to examine the subject and to deal with it.

“There is no room for immunity, and the immunity law in Israel needs to be adapted and used within the context for which it was intended,” he said.

Liberman, who has refused to take his eight-seat Yisrael Beytenu into a coalition that doesn’t include both Likud and Blue and White, said both parties had played a “game of bluff” during the negotiations, claiming to want unity while blocking it all along.

“In Likud, it was clear, and it is also clear today, that what is of interest to them is not a narrow or broad government but a government of 61 without Beytenu in order to solve other problems unrelated to state affairs,” he said, hinting at Netanyahu’s efforts to seek immunity.

“Blue and White also behaved disgracefully. They deceived their voters,” he charged.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks with the media during a faction meeting in the Knesset on December 2, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

And, unofficially launching his party’s campaign for the third election, Liberman added: “We did everything we could to form a broad national government. We want to appeal to the sane people of the country. We cannot accept the fact that a personal problem of the prime minister is running the state. Or that three chiefs wanted to form a government with [Joint List chairman] Ayman Odeh and the [Arab-majority] Joint List.”

Neither Blue and White nor Likud has enough allies to form a government without the other or the support of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, but the two parties have failed to make progress on unity efforts.

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