MK Avi Nissenkorn (Blue&White), chairman of the Arrangements Committee, is meeting with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) at noon Wednesday to obtain his consent to form the Knesset Committee, despite the fact that the Knesset was dispersed last month. The move is intended to allow a debate regarding interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request, in order to deny it.
Only the Knesset Committee can discuss Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution.
Blue&White want the committee to be set up now to debate the request, even before the March 2 elections, and it is estimated that if the committee is formed based on the current balance of powers in the Knesset, it would reject Netanyahu’s request, giving a green light to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to submit to the court the three criminal indictments against the PM.
Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman has already announced that his party would oppose Netanyahu’s request for immunity, this despite previous commitments to the contrary.
Netanyahu submitted his request for immunity last Wednesday evening, just hours before the deadline for such a move. He made it clear that all his requests from the Knesset Committee are temporary and limited only to the term of the Knesset that would vote on his request, but in reality, the PM’s arguments are identical to the claims that would be made by his attorneys in court, and would make it extremely difficult for the state prosecution to go after him at the end of the term should his immunity be granted (See: Netanyahu’s Appeal for Immunity from Prosecution Reveals Hidden Legal Strategy).
The reality is that should the Knesset decide to grant Netanyahu immunity based on police mismanagement of the case against him, his protection would not likely go away when he is out of office, seeing as the Knesset sided with him on the legal question at the foundation of the case. The prosecution would be asking for a humiliating defeat should they try.
So far, Speaker Edelstein has refused to set up a Knesset committee, so as not to sabotage Netanyahu’s ability to lead the Likud and form the next government. But Edelstein said he would consult with Knesset legal counsel Eyal Yinon, to examine whether he is compelled to set up the committee, or could wait with the decision until after the next election.
In the latter case, it would take at least four months for the committee to be set up, and throughout this time, the legal proceedings against Netanyahu would remain frozen, with AG Mandelblit unable to indict.
Blue&White officials told Reshet Bet radio on Sunday that should the Knesset counsel advise that it is inappropriate to debate the immunity at this time, because of the proximity to elections and in light of the fact that the Knesset has been dispersed, Blue&White would leave the matter alone. However, should counsel decide it is proper to debate the immunity request now, and should Speaker Edelstein deny it anyway, Blue&White would respond aggressively, including the possibility of calling for a vote to oust Edelstein.
Last Thursday, MK Ofer Shelach told Ynet that “this Knesset has full authority to debate this,” adding, “I do not envision the Knesset Speaker taking upon himself to block the will of a majority of the Knesset members on a question that is acute and intrinsic.”
Blue&White chairman Benny Gantz fiercely attacked Netanyahu last week following his request for immunity, after the prime minister had pledged countless times that he would not ask for immunity. Gantz said: “This is not a technical issue or a limited time procedure that can be tabled. Blue&White will do everything legally possible, and act to establish a Knesset committee to prevent awarding immunity to an accused criminal.”
Knesset Counsel Eyal Yinon’s opinion will certainly determine Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future.