Knesset speaker accused of dragging feet, shielding Netanyahu

Blue and White calls foul after Likud’s Edelstein does not immediately approve meeting to discuss whether transitional government can debate PM’s immunity request

Blue and White parliament member Avi Nissenkorn attends an emergency conference on disasters at construction sites in Israel, at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White parliament member Avi Nissenkorn attends an emergency conference on disasters at construction sites in Israel, at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The centrist Blue and White party was fuming on Wednesday after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party held off on approving a meeting that was to debate whether a request for immunity by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — widely expected to be lodged by midnight — could be considered by the current transitional government.

Netanyahu has until midnight to formally submit a request for parliamentary immunity in the three corruption cases against him, which he is widely expected to do. His request must by weighed by the Knesset House Committee before it can be voted upon by the plenum, but due to the lack of a functioning legislature amid a year-long ongoing political deadlock, and with new elections set, there is currently no functioning House Committee to consider the filing.

The Knesset will thus likely only be able to review and decide on his request after a coalition is formed — if it is finally formed — following the March 2 vote, the third national election in under a year.

Blue and White said MK Avi Nissenkorn had sought to call a meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, which he heads, on Thursday to discuss the possibility of forming a House Committee to discuss a potential request by Netanyahu. But when he made the request for Edelstein to approve the meeting, the speaker responded that he was abroad until the weekend, and wanted to meet with the Knesset’s legal adviser before reviewing such a request. The Arrangements Committee, which deals with procedural parliamentary issues such as the makeup of other committees, can only convene with a green light by Edelstein.

Edelstein said he would meet with Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon early next week and then decide whether the Arrangements Committee should convene.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on November 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Edelstein’s response is a shameful attempt to prevent the Knesset from discussing Netanyahu’s immunity request,” Blue and White said in a statement. “We would not have imagined that the Knesset speaker would use his statesman’s position to turn the Israeli Knesset into a shelter [from prosecution].”

The lack of a coalition has resulted in widespread Knesset dysfunction, with most committees unstaffed or engaged in power struggles.

The Nissenkorn-headed Knesset Arrangements Committee met on December 15 on the subject, in a hearing that quickly grew stormy. At the time, Blue and White demanded that the Arrangements Committee decide whether a House Committee will be created.

But Netanyahu’s party, Likud, has furiously pushed for the decision to be made by a new Agreements Committee jointly headed by Nissenkorn and Likud MK Miki Zohar — meaning that either of them could veto the formation of a House Committee. The meeting ended without resolution.

Yinon, the Knesset’s top legal adviser, ruled last month that Netanyahu’s indictment must be delayed until the House Committee decides on whether to extend the prime minister immunity from prosecution. He said the committee could be formed if the majority of the Knesset supports the move in a vote. However, Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu holds the balance of power in the parliament, has said he will vote against its creation. Blue and White said it is trying to convince him to support it.

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.

The indictments by the attorney general in November have been submitted to the Knesset speaker to grant Netanyahu a window to apply for parliamentary backing. The criminal charges will not be lodged in court until the prime minister waives his immunity request or after it is rejected, potentially holding it up for months.

Most Popular
read more: