The public pressure has worked: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to give up on the idea of advancing a new immunity law that would give him automatic immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he is facing, and instead will make do with the existing immunity law as amended in 2005, sources close to the prime minister said late Sunday.
Three Likud MKs — Gideon Sa’ar, Michal Shir and Sharren Haskel — have publicly opposed “personal” legislation to ease Netanyahu’s immunity bid, and former Likud MK Benny Begin on Sunday savaged Netanyahu for seeking to dodge prosecution
Netanyahu and his aides have been holding discussions in the last few days with legal experts regarding the current immunity law, the sources told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel group’s Hebrew site. According to these experts, the existing legislation does provide legitimate reasons by which Netanyahu can seek immunity against prosecution while he remains in office.
“Under the law, immunity can be granted if, otherwise, the will of the voter would be thwarted and public interest would be harmed,” noted one source close to Netanyahu.
Indeed, one clause in the current immunity provides for Knesset members to be given immunity if otherwise “real damage would be caused to the functioning of the Knesset or to the representation of the voters’ will.”
Netanyahu is also expected to make use of a second clause in the law, which says immunity can be granted if the indictment “has been issued in bad faith or because of discrimination.” Netanyahu claims that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has indeed discriminated against him, one source close to the prime minister said, “because nobody has ever been indicted before for getting favorable media coverage.” This is a reference to issues at the heart of Case 4000, in which the prime minister faces a bribery charge over alleged illicit dealings that enabled him to secure favorable coverage from the Walla news website.
State Prosecutors Shai Nitzan has acknowledged that there is no precedent for such a case, sources close to the prime minister said.
Netanyahu is doing everything he can to thwart the legal process against him, the sources said. In private conversations, they added, he claims that “There is not a chance in the world that I will get a fair hearing.” He has also been saying in private discussions, the sources said, that “the legal hierarchy has marked me out. Nitzan is at the head of the conspiracy and Mandelblit is part of it. They’ve decided to take me out of the game, come what may.”
Meanwhile Netanyahu is encountering major difficulties in trying to put together a coalition. He is asserting in private conversations that the small parties are extorting him, and that the Likud will have to pay by giving up control of most of the major ministries and making do with relatively minor ministries. The way things are shaping up, the Likud will not be left with a single prominent ministry apart from the Foreign Ministry, which Netanyahu has decided to give to Israel Katz, the sources said.
“People have gone crazy,” said a source in Netanyahu’s circle, referring to the Likud’s potential coalition allies, with whom negotiations are deadlocked. “They’re battering us. They’ve learned from [former Jewish Home party leaders] Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked four years ago. They will let the coalition negotiations drag on until the last-minute and then they will demand the most prominent ministerial positions and we’ll have no choice but to agree.”
“I think that [Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor] Liberman is also enjoying messing with Netanyahu,” added the source.
What is also clear is that senior Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is leading the Likud criticism of Netanyahu’s attempts to arrange immunity via special legislation, will not be given a ministry, the sources said. Netanyahu has decided to take revenge against Sa’ar for what he regards as the former education minister’s constant undermining of him. And he will pay no heed to the fact that Sa’ar came in so high in the Likud primaries prior to the April elections. (Sa’ar won the number five slot on the Likud Knesset slate.) “Sa’ar doesn’t deserve anything,” Netanyahu is said to have declared privately.
Current Likud ministers will retain seats in the cabinet, and four new ministers from the Likud will join them: Nir Barkat (who will get a small ministry), David Amsalem, Tzipi Hotovely and Amir Ohana. Avi Dichter will not be appointed a minister apparently, and will remain as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, according to sources close to Netanyahu. Dichter is not considered somebody upon whom Netanyahu feels he can completely depend, they said.
On Monday evening, the Knesset is expected to approve the first reading of legislation that will cancel limitations on the number of ministers that Netanyahu can appoint, easing his room for maneuver in the ongoing coalition talks. Netanyahu’s coalition-building deadline is May 28.