Granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity “would harm the public’s trust,” Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday, reiterating his opposition to any Knesset initative to stop Netanyahu from being prosecuted in his corruption cases.
Lieberman, who spoke during a party meeting at the Knesset, said: “I do wish that at the end of the process the prime minister will be cleared… but the only place to get to the bottom of it is the court.”
The Yisrael Beiteinu leader is the kingmaker in Israel's deadlocked electoral process, and his support would be necessary to the formation of a government around Netanyahu.
"The prime minister said he doesn't need immunity," Lieberman added, arguing that a court decision would be “the only thing that would be accepted by all citizens,” despite growing criticism of the Israeli court system among Netanyahu supporters.
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Last week Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced he had decided to indict Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases.
He now has 30 days to get the Knesset to grant him immunity so that he may avoid criminal trial. The timescale is crucial, but the political apparatus is badly prepared for this historic occurence.
Crucially, the Knesset currently lacks a House Committee, which is the only body authorized to consider a request for immunity before it is sent to the Knesset floor – and it might take up to six months to form one.
Lieberman also said he “doubts whether there’s any chance to prevent a new election,” which would be Israel’s third within a year. “We all understand there’s nothing more unnecessary to Israel and its citizens than elections.”
Talking at his faction meeting in the Knesset, Kahol Lavan leader Gantz accused the prime minister of stalling the electoral process because of his corruption cases.
“If, God forbid, we’re dragged into election, it’ll be over three reasons… Bribery, fraud and breach of trust," Gantz said. “119 Knesset members don’t want to go to elections, but only one - Netanyahu - is dragging the entire country to elections.”
Netanyahu later commented, saying that "if we are to go to the elections, the people must decide who will lead the country, the people, and no one else."
"The rule of law will be obeyed," the prime minister said, "but first we need to unite the people and form a government now."
Israeli democracy is facing a unique moment in its history, with the country little more than two weeks away from being sent back to a third general election in less than a year. President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein are now talking to the different factions in order to determine whether a majority of 61 parliamentarians can be found to support a candidate for prime minister.
On Monday, Lieberman called on the two men to “invite all party leaders and sit with them until there’s white smoke.”
Gantz, who is also a freshman lawmaker, and has failed to build a coalition earlier this month, called on MKs “from all parties” to back a national untity government headed by him.
“It’s time to do away with boycotts, and sit down to talk about a national unity government in Israel along the framework I’ve proposed," the former IDF chief-of-staff said, "whereby I will serve [as prime minister] for two years, and after me, Netanyahu, if he’s cleared.”