Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein is facing pressure to block a plenary vote on forming the Knesset House Committee, the only parliamentary panel able to debate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request.
The heads of a bloc of parties supporting Netanyahu decided Tuesday to call on Edelstein to prevent the Knesset plenum from meeting to vote, sources confirmed to The Times of Israel following a meeting of the party leaders at the Prime Minister’s Office.
On Monday, members of the Knesset Arrangements Committee voted 16 to 5 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 Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, have already declared that they support establishing the committee.
Edelstein’s office confirmed that he had received a letter Tuesday morning signed by factions representing a majority of Knesset members calling on him to allow a plenary session to take place “on Wednesday, as soon as possible, so that we can move ahead with the democratic process.”
However, Channel 13 news reported, the forum of party heads representing Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Jewish Home, National Union and New Right, have drafted a letter to Edelstein demanding that he block a plenary vote.
“He cannot let the Knesset turn into an anti-Bibi circus,” a Likud source said, using Netanyahu’s nickname, adding that the bloc heads agreed “to do all they can to prevent this embarrassment.”
That, they said, included petitioning the High Court of Justice against convening the plenary.
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 on March 2.
Likud have said they will try to delay the process by tying it up in court and with other challenges, hoping to push it past March 2, when a new Knesset will be voted in. Blue and White is hoping that the committee will debate and reject Netanyahu’s request within three weeks, with time to spare before the election.
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 the immunity requests.
On Sunday, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon’s ruled that Edelstein does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming a House Committee, which is usually not convened in a transitional government.
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.”
According to the proposal passed by the Arrangements Committee, the House Committee will have 30 members: eight seats each for Blue and White and Likud; three seats for the Joint List; two apiece for Shas, Labor-Gesher, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism; and one seat each for the Democratic Camp, the Jewish Home and the New Right.
That leaves the prime minister with 14 out of 30 votes.
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 and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.
Netanyahu announced on January 1 that he would seek Knesset immunity from prosecution, submitting the request hours before the legal deadline. But he had anticipated the matter would only be debated in the next Knesset term, after the March elections, by when he would hope to have won a parliamentary majority.