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URWP head reportedly agrees to include PM immunity bill among coalition demands

Rafi Peretz was initially at odds with party No. 2 Smotrich over the legislation; Gantz says Knesset mustn’t become ‘city of refuge for lawbreakers’

Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, holds a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin  in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, holds a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz has acceded to his deputy Bezalel Smotrich’s demand that their national religious faction make support for a bill that would grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution a condition for joining the next government.

Peretz was initially wary of placing backing for an immunity bill among URWP’s coalition demands, and requested time to study the subject, putting him at odds with Smotrich, the Walla news site reported.

Smotrich has been the most vocal supporter of such a bill, which he says could ensure a Netanyahu-led government can serve out its term.

The bill would provide automatic immunity to any member of parliament. If it is passed, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit then decided to indict Netanyahu  for corruption — as he says in intends to do, pending a hearing — the premier would be granted immunity unless a majority of the Knesset voted to strip him of that right.

Head of the National Union party MK Bezalel Smotrich, speaks during an event of the Movement for the Quality of Government, in Modi’in, February 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In the weeks leading up to the April 9 election, Netanyahu repeatedly said he would not push such legislation himself, but was coy when asked about others doing so.

In exchange for an immunity bill, Smotrich has insisted that Netanyahu make good on his campaign pledge to annex all of Israel’s West Bank settlements, which are home to some 400,000 Israeli Jews. Observers say such a move, which would come as the Trump administration prepares to roll out its long awaiting peace plan, would put a nail in the coffin of hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, Peretz was reportedly furious with Smotrich for going rogue and presenting their joint right-wing slate’s coalition demands, including support for the immunity bill in exchange for settlement annexation, to the Likud party without his consent.

URWP is an alliance of Peretz’s Jewish Home party, Smotrich’s National Union and the extremist Otzma Yehudit that was formed ahead of the national elections.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks during the party’s first faction meeting at the Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Also Tuesday, in Blue and White’s first faction meeting in the new Knesset, Benny Gantz said his centrist opposition party would work to block any effort to shield lawmakers suspected of criminality from prosecution.

“We won’t allow the Knesset to become a city of refuge for lawbreakers,” Gantz said, hours before the 21st Knesset was sworn in.

The comments appeared to refer to the calls from right-wing MKs to advance immunity legislation.

Also during the faction meeting, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid again ruled out joining a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud, and spoke out against immunity legislation and “a prime minister with indictments.”

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