Tel Aviv, 28 January 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has withdrawn his request for immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases, hours before the Knesset was to pick up the issue.
Netanyahu announced on Facebook that he has informed parliamentary speaker Yuli Edelstein of his decision, hours before Israel’s parliament was set to start proceedings on his immunity request.
Netanyahu’s chances of success had been slim, since the lawmakers in the current Knesset who are opposed to the request have a majority.
Without immunity proceedings, Netanyahu will likely face a corruption trial in the near future, possibly even before elections on March 2.
On Tuesday, the parliament still voted in favour of setting up a House Committee, which would have decided on whether the 70-year-old should be given immunity, even though he had withdrawn the request.
The committee will begin talks on a parliamentary immunity request by ex-minister Haim Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Edelstein, also a Likud member, left when the discussion began. He had earlier called the formation of the committee shortly before elections a “grave mistake” and said that he would not cooperate.
The Israeli prime minister, who is currently in Washington as US President Donald Trump is set to unveil his Middle East peace plan, said that he decided not to let this “dirty game” continue.
“At this fatal hour for the people of Israel, while I am in the United States on a historic mission to determine the permanent borders of Israel and ensure our safety for future generations, the Knesset is to begin another show in the immunity circus,” he wrote.
Netanyahu’s centre-right political rival Benny Gantz, who also went to Washington to meet Trump and discuss the plan, said that the prime minister was going to trial and Israel must move forward.
“No man can manage a country as well as manage three serious criminal cases,” wrote Gantz, who had returned to Israel for the proceedings.
Israel’s attorney general announced in November that Netanyahu would be charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases, making him Israel’s first sitting premier to face indictment.
Netanyahu is not required to resign as prime minister when indicted, though he did step down from all his ministerial posts earlier this month. The long-time leader is facing corruption charges for allegedly offering political favours in return for positive press coverage and helping wealthy business contacts in return for gifts.
The elections scheduled for March 2 are an unprecedented third in less than a year. The government has found itself in political limbo amid a stalemate between a bloc of right-wing and religious parties led by Netanyahu and a bloc of centre-left and Arab parties.