by Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he will ask the Knesset to grant him immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases against him.
The announcement, broadcast on national television on January 1, 2020, came hours before a midnight deadline for the request.
“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,” Netanyahu said during a news conference in Jerusalem. “There are people, who unlike me, did commit grave crimes and they have life-long immunity. They are just on the right side of the media and the left wing.”
Netanyahu will not be able to permanently avoid a trial on the corruption charges. Immunity would last only until the Knesset that grants it is dissolved.
A Knesset House Committee must first consider the request before sending it to the full Knesset, which needs a simple majority of 61 to pass the request. But the current Knesset, which was dissolved before it could actually govern, does not have a standing House Committee, which could delay Netanyahu’s request and prevent the corruption cases from moving forward until after the March 2 national election.
Yisrael Beiteinu Party Chairman Avigdor Liberman said his lawmakers will oppose immunity, which could prevent a majority vote for the prime minister.
“One who believes there will be nothing because there is nothing will not avoid coming to trial. It’s either the kingdom of Netanyahu or the State of Israel,” Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz said in a statement after Netanyahu’s announcement.
In November, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced indictments, including bribery and breach of public trust, in three corruption cases against Netanyahu, who denies the charges.
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won his party’s leadership primary with 72.5 percent of the vote.
Challenger Gideon Saar got 27.5 percent, according to Haaretz. Turnout for the primary was 57,677, or 49 percent of the total number of registered members.
אחרי הדיוק המושלם במדגם הבחירות לראשות מפלגת העבודה בשנה האחרונה, נכנסים שוב לשדה המוקשים המפלגתי, והפעם עם מדגם הבחירות לראשות תנועת הליכוד, עם 758 נדגמים ייחודיים וסטיית תקן של 3.2%.
— Direct Polls (@Direct_Polls) December 26, 2019
Saar, a popular Likud stalwart and former interior minister, had aimed to dethrone Netanyahu after the prime minister was twice unable to form a government following consecutive rounds of elections this year. Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Party, was also unable to assemble a governing coalition.
Netanyahu is also under indictment for fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He has led Likud for 20 years.
Israel will hold its third round of elections in less than a year on March 2.