Political Drama: Netanyahu Cancels Immunity Request, Mandelblit Set to Indict

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday morning withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity on corruption charges he faces. Netanyahu, who is in Washington to meet with President Donald Trump in advance of the latter’s release of details of his “deal of the century” peace plan, made the announcement in a social media post.

Netanyahu sad that he “will not allow my political rivals to interfere with the historic process that I am leading. At this very important moment I am in the United States on a mission of historic importance that will shape the final borders of Israel and promise security for generations to come.

“And at the same time the Knesset is set to perform another round in the ‘circus’ called the ‘immunity hearings.’ This is all part of the obsessive persecution of me by the ‘anybody but Bibi’ crowd. Instead of realizing the historic import of the moment they continue to trade in cheap politics that will end up harming the country.

“Because I was not given a fair shot at defending myself and because the rules of the Knesset were grossly violated, I have chosen not to allow this dirty game to continue,” Netanyahu wrote. “A few minutes ago I informed the Speaker of the Knesset that I was retracting my request for parliamentary immunity. I will deal with all the false accusations against me as time goes along. But for now I will not allow my political rivals to use this in order to interfere with truly important, historical events.”

The letter from Netanyahu’s lawyers to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

The Knesset was scheduled to meet Tuesday to choose a panel that would hear Netanyahu’s request for immunity. The committee was set to be weighted with MKs who will not be sympathetic to that request, as the majority of MKs, including Yisrael Beytenu, will be voting for a committee that is set to deny the request. As a result, all 55 members of the right-wing/chareidi bloc had planned to boycott Tuesday’s Knesset session. Likud whip MK Miki Zohar said in a social media message that “the coalition will not participate in the discussions that will take place. The entire process is being conducted in a forcible and manipulative manner. We will not take part in this process, which is part of Blue and White’s ‘anybody but Netanyahu’ campaign.”

As a result of Netanyahu’s decision, indictments can be handed down against Netanyahu immediately, and a report on Channel 13 said that State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit will do just that in the coming days. Legal experts said in the report that once withdrawn, Netanyahu cannot request immunity a second time, and thus he has opened himself up to immediate legal action. The experts said that Netanyahu’s next move would likely be filing petitions with the High Court to prevent the indictments from being handed down until after the elections, arguing that the fact of the indictment would interfere with the democratic processes of elections.

With indictments apparently imminent, Blue and White head Benny Gantz said that “the time has come to move forward. Israelis have a choice – a Prime Minister who will work full time for them, or one who will be required to deal with his own issues. No one can run a country and fight three criminal cases on bribery and breach of trust at the same time.”