Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced on Sunday that the plenum will convene next week to vote on forming a panel that will deliberate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity.
“Even though I disagree with the position of the Knesset legal adviser, I believe that, in order to maintain trust in the institution of Knesset speaker by all the factions, it is important to accept it,” Edelstein said in a statement explaining his decision.
He was referring to a legal opinion issued last week by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon that said a House Committee — the panel required to debate Netanyahu’s request — can be convened despite the Knesset being in recess ahead of the March 2 election.
While green-lighting the formation of the plenum, the Knesset speaker did not hide his disgust for the topic at hand, calling the effort to vote on Netanyahu’s immunity request “invalid” and “constituting contempt of the legislature.” He said the vote will not be held this week as Jerusalem welcomes leaders from around the world to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The earliest day on which the vote can be held will be next Tuesday, with Monday being International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The House Committee is widely expected to reject Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases against him.
Edelstein has been under pressure from Netanyahu’s political rivals to hold a vote on forming the House Committee in the wake of the Knesset legal adviser’s ruling allowing it to convene.
The Knesset speaker, who said he disagreed with Yinon’s legal opinion but would abide by it, was also facing pressure from Netanyahu and his allies to block the plenum from voting on forming the committee.
Likud lawmakers claimed that Yinon should not have been allowed to issue his ruling due to a “serious conflict of interest” stemming from the fact that his wife, Amit Merari, is part of the team of prosecutors who worked on the prime minister’s criminal cases.
While acknowledging the conflict of interest, Yinon said Thursday in response to a High Court of Justice petition filed by Likud MK Miki Zohar that his opinion on forming a House Committee — a procedural question — had no bearing on the actual cases against Netanyahu or the expected immunity proceedings in the Knesset.
On Friday, Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn called on Yinon to intervene over Edelstein’s failure to move forward on a request by Knesset members to review Netanyahu’s immunity request.
Noting adviser Yinon’s legal opinion that the House Committee can be convened even with the Knesset being in recess, Nissenkorn said Edelstein had failed to call the plenum to vote on forming the committee, despite appeals by a majority of MKs that he do so.
Blue and White has reportedly threatened to oust Edelstein if he fails to convene the plenum by early next week.
Members of the Knesset Arrangements Committee voted Monday 16 to five in favor of establishing and staffing the key committee. But a vote on the establishment of the committee must also take place in the Knesset plenary open to all 120 MKs, a majority of whom, crucially including the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, have already declared that they support establishing the committee.
Yinon ruled last week that Edelstein does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming the House Committee, which is usually not convened in a transitional government.
Once formed, the House Committee is likely to debate and potentially vote on Netanyahu’s immunity request in the coming weeks, perhaps even days, long before election day.
The prime minister and his supporters have argued that the committe 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 the immunity requests.
Netanyahu’s immunity request, and his subsequent efforts to prevent the forming of the House Committee to debate it, were widely perceived as an effort to stall for time ahead of the March elections, because Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit cannot open trial proceedings against him before it is brought to a vote.