Ruling expected Sunday on whether PM’s immunity can be decided pre-election

Ruling expected Sunday on whether PM’s immunity can be decided pre-election

Knesset legal adviser’s opinion could determine immediate fate of Netanyahu’s criminal proceedings; Mandelblit pushes back against Likud calls for adviser to recuse himself

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (L) and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon at the Knesset on May 7, 2013. (Flash)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (L) and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon at the Knesset on May 7, 2013. (Flash)

The Knesset legal adviser will next week publish a legal opinion that could determine whether parliament will be able to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases before the March 2 elections, the Knesset spokesperson’s office said Thursday.

Eyal Yinon is formulating an opinion on the specifics of the ability of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, to single-handedly prevent the formation during a transitional government of a House Committee — the only body that can discuss the request, even if a majority of lawmakers support forming it.

Netanyahu and his allies want to prevent the House Committee, which is practically guaranteed to reject the immunity request, from forming in order to delay the charges from being formally filed in court. They have claimed Yinon has a conflict of interest since his wife was a prosecutor who worked on the cases against the premier. Yinon argues that his decision deals with matters of principle, not with the specific cases against Netanyahu.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and party MKs Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi at a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on January 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The centrist Blue and White party, Likud’s chief rival in the elections, were expected to demand Sunday that Edelstein okay a meeting of the Arrangements Committee, which deals with procedural parliamentary issues and which must convene to create a temporary House Committee.

The Knesset speaker’s approval is needed for the Arrangements Committee to meet. Edelstein’s office said that shortly after he receives Yinon’s opinion on Sunday, he will publish his decision on the matter.

If Edelstein refuses to allow the committee to convene, Blue and White will push for the full Knesset plenum to meet to vote on a replacement for him as Knesset speaker, according to Hebrew media reports.

Earlier this week, Yinon authored a legal opinion saying the interim Knesset could convene a House Committee that would debate the prime minister’s request for immunity. Netanyahu had sought to delay the immunity proceedings until after the March elections, as a majority of lawmakers in the current Knesset are believed to oppose his bid.

Netanyahu requested immunity from prosecution in three criminal cases last week, but is believed to be banking on lawmakers being unable to swiftly set up a committee and discuss his request, thus pushing off the process until after the March vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein arrive for a joint event of the Knesset and the US Congress, celebrating 50 years since Jerusalem’s reunification, at the Chagall state hall in the Knesset, on June 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

On Sunday Edelstein asked Yinon for clarification regarding his powers, drawing the Knesset adviser into the case.

In the days since, Likud lawmakers have demanded Yinon recuse himself from any decisions relating to the formation of a Knesset committee to deal with Netanyahu’s immunity request, and withdraw an earlier ruling okaying it.

Yinon has rejected having a conflict of interest, saying there was no basis to the claim he acted inappropriately.

Likud on Thursday again went after Yinon, saying he should recuse himself due to his inclusion in a list of state witnesses in the cases published by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in December.

Mandelblit later issued a statement appearing to dismiss the Likud criticism, saying Yinon’s testimony was not “essential” to the probes and related to a conversation he’d had with figures in one of the cases on matters of Knesset regulations.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in three 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.

Under a 2005 change to the Knesset immunity law, members of the legislature no longer receive automatic immunity from prosecution but must request it from the plenum when relevant.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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