Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he will seek immunity from corruption charges.
After being indicted on graft charges, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now said he will request parliamentary immunity. The move could seriously delay criminal proceedings against him.
The Israeli prime minister was charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in November. He has denied any wrongdoing.
In a televised address, Netanyahu repeated his claim that he is the victim of an unfair conspiracy.
The move means criminal proceedings against him will be delayed for months since a trial cannot be held once a request for immunity has been made.
A decision on granting or rejecting immunity for Netanyahu will likely not be made before Israel’s next general election in early March when Netanyahu will be seeking to win national elections, the unprecedented third election in a year. Last week, he declared victory in his political party’s leadership contest.
The 70-year-old right-wing leader was indicted in November over charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. It was the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister had been charged.
Sad day for Israel
In a speech announcing his decision, Netanyahu said he was entitled to parliament’s protection, claiming that the criminal charges against him were politically motivated. He has frequently denied any wrongdoing, asserting that he is the victim of a conspiracy to oust him.
“I want to lead Israel for many more years to achieve historical successes,” Netanyahu said.
Benny Gantz, the head of the centrist Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s main political rival, called Netanyahu’s announcement a “sad day for Israel.”
He accused the prime minister of acting out of personal interest and not out of consideration for the future of Israel.
Netanyahu knows that he is guilty
“Netanyahu knows that he is guilty,” Gantz said.
The move has also come amid deep political deadlock in Israel, with the country facing its third general election within 12 months.
In order to secure immunity, Netanyahu needs the support of 61 out of 120 lawmakers in the Knesset — the same majority that has evaded him in attempts to form a government following elections in April and September.
Under normal circumstances, a parliamentary committee would be formed to decide on the immunity issue and then be put up for a vote in the Knesset.
However, Israel is currently being run by a caretaker government — with parliament limited in its ability to act on certain issues. It remains unclear whether the current parliament would be allowed to form the committee needed to make a decision on immunity.
Netanyahu’s bid for immunity will likely dominate campaigning for the upcoming election. A recent opinion poll showed that a majority of Israelis oppose Netanyahu being granted immunity.
rs/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)