Netanyahu withdraws immunity from prosecution request


Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced that he was withdrawing his request for parliamentary immunity in the three graft cases against him to stop the “dirty game” over the issue, paving the way for legal proceedings against him to go forward.

The Israeli leader made his decision public through a Facebook Post from Washington, where he is on a visit to meet US President Donald Trump before the latter announces his plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in November in three separate cases. He has denied any wrongdoing.

During this fateful time for the people of Israel, while I am in the US on a historic mission to shape Israel’s permanent borders and ensure our security for future generations, another Knesset episode is expected to begin in the immunity circus, Netanyahu wrote.

Since I was not given due process, because all the rules of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) were trampled on, and since the results of the procedure were pre-dictated without proper discussion, I decided not to allow this dirty game to continue, the 70-year-old leader stressed.

The indictment is now expected to be filed with the Jerusalem District Court by the end of the week, less than five weeks before the unprecedented third round of parliamentary elections within a year slated for March 2.

The date for Tuesday’s Knesset discussion was set before Netanyahu announced that he would travel to Washington for the unveiling of Trump’s long awaited peace plan. The timing of the announcement of the peace plan has been criticised by many analysts in Israel as an attempt to rescue Netanyahu from the immunity proceedings.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s main political rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, who also met Trump in Washington on Monday said that Netanyahu cannot run the country while standing trial in the three three cases against him.

Netanyahu is going to trial. We must move forward. Israel’s citizens have a clear choice: A Prime Minister who will work for them or a Prime Minister working for himself,” Gantz, a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces, said in a statement.

“No one can run a state and at the same time manage three serious criminal cases for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he emphasised.

Netanyahu, who rejects all the charges, may have withdrawn his request to avoid the embarrassment of a certain defeat at the floor of the Knesset with almost 65 out of 120 parliament members reportedly likely to vote against it, according to reports.

His move to seek for immunity was also seen as contrary to his pleadings that he was innocent and nothing would come out of these cases.

Despite that he announced in January that he would ask the Knesset for parliamentary immunity, as he faced a legal deadline to do so following Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to charge him.

Mandelblit couldn’t officially indict Netanyahu so long as his immunity request was pending and the Knesset hadn’t voted on it.

The Attorney General announced in November that he would indict Netanyahu in all the three corruption investigations against him. The Prime Minister is charged with fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

He has all through denied wrongdoing and has accused police and state prosecutors of participating in an attempted coup against him, orchestrated by the Left and a hostile media.

The first case, dubbed Case 1000, involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favours.

In Case 2000, involving accusations that Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favourable coverage from Yedioth, the Premier is charged with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes has been charged with bribery.

In the so called Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Mandelblit has charged both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery in the case.