Netanyahu Making Progress in Bid to Cancel His Corruption Trial

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media ahead of the first hearing in his corruption trial, Jerusalem, May 24, 2020.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media ahead of the first hearing in his corruption trial, Jerusalem, May 24, 2020.Credit: Yonatan Sindel / Pool / AFP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quietly moving ahead with his plan to rescue himself from his corruption trial, striving to stall the proceedings and eventually receive immunity from the Knesset, perhaps after a good showing by his Likud party in the March 23 election, political sources say.

At the Jerusalem District Court, his lawyers are drawing up a long list of arguments and advancing at a snail’s pace toward the trial’s evidentiary stage. The prime minister has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

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A year ago, Netanyahu waived his parliamentary immunity after he realized that in the Knesset elected in September 2019, he had no chance of receiving immunity. But the prime minister’s lawyers recently claimed in court that he never waived his right to parliamentary immunity, saying that the Knesset’s immunity proceedings were flawed.

Netanyahu’s current move is two-staged and so far has been successful: The first is to amend the indictments against him, and the second is appoint as Knesset legal adviser someone who will argue that amending the indictment is justification for rehearing his immunity request.

Netanyahu's request for amending the indictment was granted by the court, which ordered that details be provided about what Netanyahu asked for, and what his family asked for, in the list of favors from their billionaire friends. His lawyers asked that Netanyahu and his family not be included together as a single entity.

The second step is more complicated: Appointing a Knesset legal adviser to his taste. The candidate chosen was attorney Sagit Afik, currently the acting legal adviser. She has served as the legal adviser to the Knesset Finance Committee, and received warm recommendations from the panel’s chairman, Moshe Gafni, who has promised that she can be relied on.

Likud legislators also liked how she acted regarding efforts to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry on the so-called submarine affair. Afik received the task of writing the legal opinion on whether the Knesset vote on establishing a panel was valid – or not, as Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin ruled.

Afik said the Knesset vote had been taken improperly and had to be canceled. Thus when the time came to choose the new Knesset legal adviser, her opponent, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri, had very slim chances.

Last week, Aviad Glickman of Channel 13 News reported that after the the indictment against Netanyahu was amended, Levin asked Afik for a legal opinion on whether the law required that the indictment be submitted once again to the Knesset speaker.

People close to Netanyahu say they are very optimistic about what Afik will write in her opinion, but declined to elaborate. In any case, Afik can argue that the changes in the indictment represent a significant change in circumstances – and that Netanyahu therefore has the right to ask the Knesset for immunity once again.

Such a decision could lead to a confrontation between the different branches of government. Netanyahu has already asked the district court to return the immunity debate to the Knesset, arguing that the process suffered a number of flaws – and this request was denied. It is not clear what will happen if the Knesset says it must discuss the matter once again and the judges say no.

Netanyahu knows that any attempt to rehear his immunity request in the Knesset will be met with a petition to the High Court of Justice, and he could lose. Still, that is part of the plan.

The main plan is for Netanyahu to stall, using both relevant and time-wasting requests and procedures for the court.

He hopes to postpone the evidentiary sessions until after the March 23 general election in the hope that he will have the votes of 61 lawmakers to pass a law to delay his trial until the end of his time in office. Then he can elect a president he desires, who could pardon him if necessary.

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