JERUSALEM, Israel – In a major blow to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political aspirations, a key committee decided on Monday to move forward with debating his request to receive immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases against him.
After deliberating for two hours, Israel’s parliament voted 16-5 to establish a House Committee tasked with debating Netanyahu’s immunity request. It is not clear when the committee will be staffed or when the debate over Netanyahu’s immunity will begin. The committee will have 30 members representing and is widely expected to reject Netanyahu’s request, potentially setting him up to stand trial before the March 2 national election.
The parliamentary move was mainly engineered by Netanyahu’s chief political rival, the Blue and White Party. Blue and White hopes the committee will debate and reject Netanyahu’s immunity long before the March election, which could potentially jeopardize Netanyahu’s political future. Meanwhile, members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party have said they will try to repeatedly stall the process in hopes of pushing it back until after March 2, when a new Knesset term begins.
Netanyahu announced on January 1 he would ask the current Knesset to grant him immunity until the end of its term in March.
"Many of you think, because that's what they've told you, that immunity for elected officials is granted in perpetuity, that it allows you not to stand trial ever. That's simply untrue. According to the law, immunity is always temporary. It is canceled with the end of the term of the Knesset that granted it,” said Netanyahu.
His request came after Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies the charges and accuses his political enemies of simply trying to oust him from office.
According to Israeli law, sitting prime ministers are the only political leaders who can request immunity from prosecution while they are still serving in that position.
Netanyahu took the option to ask the current Knesset to grant him temporary immunity so he wouldn’t stand trial until the Knesset’s term was over. But the decision was a political gamble. If the Knesset decides Netanyahu should not receive immunity, his trial can go on much sooner than expected and could affect his chances in the next election.
The formation of a House Committee still requires a plenum vote which Blue and White hopes will be held this week.
Netanyahu will hold an emergency meeting with his political allies on Tuesday to discuss his immunity challenges, Israel’s Channel 12 television news reported on Monday.