Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he would seek immunity from corruption charges, likely delaying any trial until after March elections, when he hopes to have a majority coalition that will shield him from prosecution, The Associated Press writes.
Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. After failing to assemble a governing majority following back-to-back elections last year, he will get a third shot at remaining in office in March.
Wednesday’s announcement essentially turns the upcoming election into a referendum on whether Netanyahu should be granted immunity and remain in office, or step down and stand trial. A recent poll indicated that a majority of Israelis oppose giving him immunity.
In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu repeated his assertion that he is the victim of an unfair conspiracy, lashing out at prosecutors, the media and his political enemies. Claiming credit for a series of economic and security achievements on his watch, he said he would seek to invoke the law that would protect him from prosecution as long as he remains in office.
“In order to continue to lead Israel to great achievements, I intend to approach the speaker of the Knesset in accordance with chapter 4C of the law, in order to fulfill my right, my duty and my mission to continue to serve you for the future of Israel,” he said.
Normally, a request for immunity would need to be approved by the parliament’s House Committee and then submitted to a full vote. But the House Committee doesn’t exist because a government was never formed after September’s election. Court proceedings cannot begin until the question of immunity is settled.
The opposition Blue and White party said it will seek to form the House Committee before the March election to take up the question of immunity. But it remains unclear whether it will be able to move forward. Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said he would hold talks on the matter next week.
The Blue and White leader, former military chief Benny Gantz, said it was a “sad day.”
“I never imagined that we would see the day that the prime minister of Israel would avoid standing before the law and the justice system,” he said. “Today it’s clear what we’re fighting for. Netanyahu knows he’s guilty.”
Netanyahu said he was not evading justice and still plans to go to court to fight the “fabricated accusations.”