Report: In Gabbay deal with PM, Labor would have been expected to back immunity

Officials close to talks contradict Labor leader’s claim Netanyahu’s offer took issue off the table; sources close to Gabbay: Party would have quit coalition if PM were charged

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay at a discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay at a discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Since his discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on joining the coalition this week were made public, Labor Party chief Avi Gabbay has said the deal would have seen an end to any push to secure immunity from prosecution for the premier.

However, officials with knowledge of the talks told Channel 12 news on Saturday that this was not true. While Netanyahu would not have pushed any new legislation to get immunity, he would have sought to receive it under current law, they said — and Labor would have been expected to back him.

Under current law, members of the Knesset do not receive automatic immunity, but can request and receive it from the legislature.

Sources close to Gabbay told Channel 12 the sides had never made any agreements regarding Labor’s support for immunity as he would have quit the government if Netanyahu were charged, and would not have supported any immunity push. (Netanyahu faces three counts of fraud and breach of trust, and one of bribery — pending his pre-indictment hearing set for early October.)

This appeared to be something of a departure from the claims Gabbay had previously made: Likud’s offer to Labor would have taken any attempt at an immunity gambit off the table.

Gabbay on Wednesday evening acknowledged that his center-left party had weighed, and ultimately rejected, a Likud offer to join the coalition in place of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, which was holding out and ultimately refused to sign an agreement.

He said the proposal included burying legislation to bypass the High Court of Justice and attempts to protect the prime minister from prosecution, and granting Labor a veto right in “any anti-democratic legislation.”

On Friday, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu let Gabbay film him promising to never partner with Liberman, to assuage his fears the Likud head was only using him to pressure Liberman into joining the coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019, after being forced to disperse parliament and call new elections (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a bid to overcome what they knew would be near-unshakeable opposition in Labor to sitting with Netanyahu and the other far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties in the prospective coalition, Netanyahu and Gabbay tried to craft tailor-made portfolios that top Labor MK’s would find hard to resist, the Channel 12 report said.

For Shelly Yachimovich, a previous Labor leader, former journalist and social justice campaigner, they stitched together a ministry that would combine the Communications Ministry, the culture portfolio and responsibility for secular pre-university programs and youth movements.

Another top Labor MK, Itzik Shmuli, who was a leader of the 2011 social protest movement, was to be offered the Social Welfare Ministry, while former general and the party’s No.2 Tal Russo, who reportedly accompanied Gabbay to the talks, would be deputy defense minister under Netanyahu.

Gabbay was to be given the treasury — even though Netanyahu had already promised that same job to Kulanu leader and current Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

MK Itzik Shmuli attends a Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee meeting at the Knesset on October 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to some reports Netanyahu also offered to support veteran Labor member Amir Peretz as Israel’s next president when Reuven Rivlin’s term ends.

The Netanyahu-Gabbay deal ultimately failed, however, after news of the talks surfaced and the Labor MKs Yachimovich, Peretz, Shmuli and Stav Shaffir swiftly rejected sitting with Netanyahu and furiously condemned Gabbay, who led Labor to its historic low of six seats in April’s elections, for having considered any such alliance with the reviled prime minister.

Netanyahu also failed to persuade Liberman to join the coalition, leading to snap elections, now slated for September 17.

On Thursday, Gabbay sought to justify his talks with Netanyahu, saying that even though he had repeatedly vowed to not join a Netanyahu government during the election campaign, he seriously considered it after he was offered the means to help preserve Israeli democracy.

He said he had learned from the episode not to issue blanket statements after he spent the election campaign saying he would “never” sit with Netanyahu.

“Before my eyes I saw an opportunity to stop the erosion of democracy and those laws,” he said.

“If I had a moment of doubt that he was using us, I would not have entered the room,” explained Gabbay, who throughout the campaign said that Netanyahu could not be trusted and issued dozens of ads calling on leaders of other parties to vow to never sit with Netanyahu.

Gabbay has said Labor eventually decided against the move as it couldn’t trust that Netanyahu would fulfill his promises.

Since his talks to partner with Netanyahu came to light, there have been growing calls within Labor for Gabbay to step aside.

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