Knesset panel convening Monday to begin processing Netanyahu immunity request

Knesset panel convening Monday to begin processing Netanyahu immunity request

Arrangements Committee, headed by Blue and White MK, can create temporary House Committee, which would likely reject PM’s bid for immunity from prosecution in three graft cases

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn at the Knesset, May 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton /Flash90)
Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn at the Knesset, May 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton /Flash90)

The Knesset’s Arrangements Committee is set to convene Monday to begin processing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution.

The body, headed by Blue and White party MK Avi Nissenkorn, will meet at 11 a.m., the party said in a statement.

The Arrangements Committee deals with procedural parliamentary issues, and will in turn create a temporary House Committee to debate Netanyahu’s immunity request.

“We will conduct discussions on immunity in a fair, pertinent and effective manner,” Nissenkorn said on Sunday.

On Sunday, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon released a ruling saying the Knesset could not block the formation of the House Committee. Netanyahu’s Likud party had submitted a petition to the High Court seeking an injunction against the release of the ruling.

A majority of lawmakers support setting up the House Committee to hear Netanyahu’s immunity request.

Yinon’s ruling paves the way for legislators to consider — and, with the current balance of power, almost certainly reject — Netanyahu’s request to receive immunity from the indictment he faces in the three criminal cases against him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, January 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The crux of Yinon’s ruling is that Speaker Yuli Edelstein, of Likud, does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming a House Committee, which is usually not convened in a transitional government. As Knesset speaker, Edelstein must okay any meeting of Nissenkorn’s Arrangements Committee.

Following the decision, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz instructed Nissenkorn to “to convene the Arrangements Committee as soon as possible in order to establish the Knesset committee to discuss Netanyahu’s immunity.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, January 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Edelstein said he disagreed with Yinon’s legal opinion, but would abide by it.

“Convening a Knesset House Committee now would be a terrible mistake,” he said in a combative press conference shortly after Yinon announced his decision. “We can’t let such an important process, a kind of judicial process, to be undertaken like this. We can’t let the House Committee turn into a jungle that shames the parliament. I can’t promise a fair process. Irrespective of the identity of the person asking for immunity, he deserves a fair process. The Knesset deserves a fair process. We citizens deserve a fair process.”

Earlier Sunday, Likud MK Miki Zohar filed a last-ditch petition calling on the High Court to rule that Yinon could not deal with the cases due to a “serious conflict of interest” because his wife, Amit Merari, is part of the team of prosecutors who worked on the prime minister’s criminal cases.

In a second petition, Likud said that Yinon should have to wait until the court rules on his alleged conflict on interest before issuing a ruling himself on the formation of the committee. It also claimed that Yinon’s “lack of restraint” in seeking to release his ruling as soon as possible “increases the fear of conflict of interest, and severely impairs public confidence in the Knesset and these quasi-judicial proceedings.”

If the House Committee meets, it is expected to decide against granting Netanyahu immunity, opening up the prime minister to a formal indictment before the March 2 election.

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz at a conference in Jerusalem, December 17, 2019. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Netanyahu had hoped to stall the immunity process until after election day. Blue and White party is hoping that the committee will debate and reject Netanyahu’s request within three weeks, with time to spare before the election.

Nissenkorn’s Arrangements Committee will also field an unrelated immunity request by Likud MK Haim Katz, who also faces graft charges.

Yinon has already ruled that, even though Israel is currently governed by a transition government, there is no legal impediment to the formation of the House Committee.

The prime minister and his supporters have argued that the House Committee should not be formed because the Israeli government is in transition, and also because there is insufficient time before the elections for the committee to properly weigh his request.

Netanyahu, in November, became the first sitting prime minister with charges against him when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict the prime minister for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies the charges.

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