Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a final decision to request parliamentary immunity from prosecution in three criminal cases in which he faces charges, and will do so by the end of the coming week, according to a television report Saturday.
Netanyahu has long evaded questions on whether he will seek to avoid criminal charges through such means. A request for immunity is seen as unpopular among all voters, even many of the prime minister’s supporters.
The announcement was expected to be made in a low-profile manner, Channel 12 news reported. And Netanyahu will explain it by citing his recent definitive victory in the Likud party primary. To honor the trust the public has expressed in him, he will reportedly say that he must request immunity in order to be able to focus on running the nation, rather than his trial.
A statement on behalf of Netanyahu Saturday night said: “Contrary to reports, a request for immunity is a temporary matter for a period in office only, and is not an evasion from facing charges. At any rate the prime minister has not yet made a decision on the matter and will announce his decision in the coming days.”
Netanyahu must announce whether he wants to seek immunity in the coming days, or automatically forfeit his right to do so. Though the premier is far from guaranteed to get a Knesset majority to support his immunity bid, merely asking for it will delay any potential trial by months.
His request must by weighed by the House Committee before it can be voted upon by the plenum, but due to the lack of a functioning legislature over ongoing political deadlock, and new elections set for March, the Knesset will only be able to review and decide on his request after a coalition is formed — if it is formed — following the March 2 vote.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in November announced his intention to indict the prime minister in three corruption cases. Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in the 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 premier’s legal woes have come as he also contends with political troubles, having failed in consecutive attempts to form a government. In negotiations to try and form a unity government in recent months, the Blue and White party said it would not be part of a government that allowed Netanyahu to receive immunity.
The government “is not a sanctuary from the law,” Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has said.
Gantz has asserted that the only reason the country is headed to a third election in less than a year is Netanyahu’s desire for immunity.
A number of recent polls have indicated that a third round of elections would result in continued gridlock, potentially further extending the political impasse — and Netanyahu’s reprieve from legal trouble — well into next year.