New laws to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution will not be a part of agreements his Likud party is discussing with other parties to join the next government, a spokesman for the premier said Friday.
“I confirm on behalf of the prime minister that the issue of immunity will not be a part of the coalition agreements,” the spokesman said.
However, analysts said Netanyahu was likely to push ahead with some kind of legislation, noting that he had the support of his potential coalition partners even if it is not part of the signed deal.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” said Channel 12 analyst Amnon Abramovitch Friday.
Channel 12 said that even if new immunity legislation is not in the formal coalition agreements, Netanyahu would either seek such legislation anyhow, or utilize existing legislation to gain immunity and then legislate to prevent the Supreme Court intervening. “He’s still pushing ahead with this with all his strength,” the TV report said.
The Likud statement followed earlier remarks by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who has been leading the coalition negotiations, who denied “rumors and reports” that understandings on immunity would be part of the coalition agreements.
The comments from the Netanyahu spokesman and Levin came a day after MK Gideon Sa’ar, an influential Likud lawmaker who has clashed with Netanyahu, became the first lawmaker in the ruling party to come out against the prime minister’s reported plans to pass a new immunity law to avoid prosecution in the three criminal cases against him — with conditions more favorable than the current provisions.
A number of Likud lawmakers blasted Sa’ar over the remarks, while party sources were quoted saying by Hebrew media that he was working to topple Netanyahu.
Freshman Likud MK Michal Shir, a former aide to Sa’ar, later came to his defense and said she too opposes “personal legislation” that could protect Netanyahu from being indicted.
Netanyahu said in the run to April’s elections that he would not personally push for legislation granting him immunity, though several recent reports have suggested he has decided to move forward with the efforts.
The prime minister is facing charges for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in a series of corruption cases. Netanyahu, who by law is entitled to a pre-trial hearing with the attorney general before an indictment is formally filed, has denied any wrongdoing and claimed the corruption accusations are aimed at forcing him from office.
Earlier this week, the Haaretz daily reported Netanyahu is planning to promote a bill allowing lawmakers to overrule administrative decisions by the High Court of Justice, including any ruling it could make against granting the premier immunity through legislation or a Knesset decision.
According to the newspaper, Levin is the driving force behind the reported bill.
Levin, a political ally of Netanyahu and critic of the Supreme Court, has been rumored as a candidate for justice minister. Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich, who Haaretz said was coordinating with Levin on the bill, is insisting on that portfolio as a condition for joining the coalition.
Smotrich has been the driving force to restore legislation automatically granting Knesset members parliamentary immunity.
Levin’s comments also came amid ongoing deadlock in talks between Likud and its potential coalition partners.
Netanyahu spoke Friday with Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman, who earlier this week said he was ending coalition talks unless Likud agreed to a series of demands he laid out. Sources quoted in Hebrew media said there was no progress during their talks.
Likud has yet to sign a coalition deal with any other party. President Reuven Rivlin on Monday granted Netanyahu’s request for a two-week extension of the deadline to form a government, after the expiry of the initial 28-day period he had to assemble a ruling majority in the Knesset.