Blue and White leader Benny Gantz claimed on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to announce, falsely, that if he remains premier after next week’s election, it will be his last term in office.
“I don’t believe him and suggest no one else believe him either,” Gantz said, speaking at a conference of the B’Sheva newspaper in Jerusalem, alleging that Netanyahu’s “only goal” was to win the election in order to obtain legislation to provide him immunity from prosecution and block his criminal trial set to begin in March.
Mocking Netanyahu for his claim that he needs to be elected in order to enact a number of key reforms, Gantz said, “What he hasn’t done in 14 years, he’s not going to do now.”
Asked on Monday about reports he was considering announcing that his potential next term would be his last, Netanyahu told Galei Yisrael radio, “I have not said to anyone that it will be my last term. I am in full strength.”
Speaking at the same conference after Gantz, Netanyahu called Gantz a “poor imitation” of himself. “He’s Ali Express Bibi,” the prime minister quipped, referring to the Chinese retail platform.
Hitting back at Gantz, Netanyahu said that the Blue and White chief was “spreading spin” in order to hide from that fact that “he cannot form a government without [Ahmad] Tibi and [Ayman] Odeh,” of the mostly-Arab Joint List party.
On Monday, Netanyahu refused to rule out legislation after the election that would provide him immunity from conviction, even after his criminal trial has began, saying in one interview that “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Later, he appeared to backtrack, saying he would not personally legislate such a law.
Netanyahu’s corruption trial will open two weeks after Israelis head to the ballot box on March 2 for the third time in under a year.
Last year, following the April election, speculation swirled that Netanyahu was conditioning entry to a government on potential coalition parties’ support for a law sheltering a sitting prime minister from prosecution. Shortly after the election, Netanyahu ally Likud MK Miki Zohar submitted legislation aimed at granting the prime minister immunity from prosecution, even as Netanyahu claimed he wasn’t behind the bill. With the ongoing political deadlock, the law was never advanced.
Any law passed now to protect Netanyahu, however, would have to provide him immunity from conviction, and not just prosecution, since his trial is set to have already started by the time any coalition is formed.
On March 17, Netanyahu will begin his criminal trial, in which he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases as well as bribery in one of them. He has dismissed the charges as a witch hunt by law enforcement, the media and political rivals to oust him from office.
Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed an indictment against the prime minister with the Jerusalem District Court, charging the premier with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. It marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister was indicted.