Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution over corruption charges against him, a move that would likely delay any trial until after the third consecutive round of Israeli elections in March.
At a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the embattled premiere — who is facing corruption, bribery, and breach of trust charges — said he would be officially requesting parliamentary immunity in the three criminal cases against him, which he called “fabricated tales.”
“I intend to ask the Knesset speaker to let me implement my right, my duty and my mission to continue serving you for the future of Israel,” adding that “by law, immunity is temporary,” Israeli media reported.
“It [immunity] is cancelled as soon as the Knesset that gave it is dissolved. By law, there is no possibility to avoid trial,” he said.
Netanyahu continuously insisted upon his innocence, deflecting criticism to those on “the right side of the media and the left wing” who he said committed “grave crimes” but have “life-long immunity.” It remained unclear exactly who or what Netanyahu was speaking about.
“The immunity law is meant to protect public representatives from being framed,” he said.
Israeli law dictates that a parliamentary immunity request should first be discussed and approved by the Knesset House Committee before going to the Knesset plenum for a vote.
However, given the fact that a House Committee hasn’t been formed since Israel’s whirlwind election cycle began in April, and again failed to form in September, Netanyahu’s request cannot be considered at the moment.
Therefore, any criminal proceedings will have to wait until the March elections, though they are predicted to be delayed even further after that deadline.
Netanyahu’s move, which he made a mere hours before the deadline to request immunity was set to pass, was widely considered as a survival tactic to buy him more time in Israel’s head office.
His political rivals were overwhelmingly critical of the move, with the opposition saying they would move to to form a temporary House Committee to consider the immunity request before March. The likeliness of such a move succeeding remains to be seen.
Benny Gantz, who’s been running for Netanyahu’s position for over a year now, said that if Netanyahu is not guilty, as he says he is, he “should not be afraid to face trial.”
“I never imagined that we will reach a day when the prime minister of Israel will avoid facing the law and the justice system,” Gantz said, adding that “Netanyahu knows he is guilty.”
Netanyahu’s political rival and former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heavily pushed for a unity government to be formed in September, said that he would do everything he could to prevent Netanyahu from receiving immunity.
“Israel has become a prisoner of Netanyahu, held hostage by his own personal problem. He doesn’t care about left, right, religious or secular,” Lieberman said, adding that his party, Yisrael Beiteinu would unanimously vote against immunity for the premiere.
One day after Netanyahu’s announcement that he would be seeking parliamentary immunity, Israel’s High Court ruled against a petition to fire Netanyahu from his post of Prime Minister before the elections.
“The election period is a politically sensitive time, so it is fitting to act with heavy restraint…this is in light of the most complex and sensitive period without historical precedent within which the State Israel currently finds itself,” the court said.