Netanyahu: Requesting Immunity From Prosecution Isn't Avoiding Trial

Netanyahu's time to ask that the Knesset grant him immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he was charged in will run out next week

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing Likud party supporters during a meeting in Petah Tikva, December 18, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing Likud party supporters during a meeting in Petah Tikva, December 18, 2019.Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin said on Saturday that should he request that the Knesset grant him immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he was charged in, he "would not be avoiding trial."

The premier made the remark in response to a report by Israel's Channel 12 News, according to which he has ultimately decided that he will ask for immunity, which he is permitted to request until the middle of next week. He stated that he "has yet to make a decision on the matter and will announce a decision in the coming days."

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In November, Israel faced a first-of-its-kind situation in the country's history when an indictment was filed against Netanyahu. He was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, as well as fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000. The indictment alleges that Netanyahu “placed himself in a conflict of interests between his public roles and his private affairs.”

A special Knesset committee, which according to Israeli law would have to discuss such a request, has not been appointed since Israel held the April election. A new committee is not expected to be assembled until after the March 2 vote, so if Netanyahu does file a request to be granted immunity a discussion about it will likely be postponed by several months, at the very least.

If a new government is not formed after the March election, the discussion on Netanyahu's immunity could potentially be further postponed. It is not possible to file an official indictment of Netanyahu to the court before a committee discusses his request.

After this committee is established, and should it decide to grant Netanyahu immunity, the request will then pass on to a vote in the Knesset plenum. The Knesset can then decide to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution in all three of the cases, or only for some of them. Even if the Knesset committee and the plenum both approve the prime minister's request, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, or any other civilian entity, could appeal this decision to the High Court of Justice.

In the same vein, Netanyahu himself could also petition the High Court if the Knesset rejects his request for immunity. The High Court has intervened in the past in decisions concerning immunity, on the grounds that the Knesset exceeded its authority, made an unreasonable decision or failed to provide enough evidence to back the decision to grant immunity.

The process to give the premier immunity, which would take place before a trial is held in a court of law, could take a while. Following the discussions on immunity and the petitions that are likely to be filed to the court, the legal proceedings will finally begin. Even then, they could be delayed should legal requests be made to provide further evidence in the cases in which Netanyahu is embroiled.

Should the prosecution refuse to provide evidence material, the matter may have to be settled in court at a separate hearing. As long as a defendant has an interest to postpone the legal proceedings, the process of providing further evidence could take up to a year.

This week, the High Court is expected to discuss a significant issue: Whether a person who has been charged with criminal acts can be appointed to form a government. Mendelblit announced Thursday that he will not provide his legal opinion until the High Court decides whether to discuss an appeal that was filed on the matter or to outright reject it. Since Mendelblit filed the indictment against Netanyahu, he has refrained from expressing a public opinion on the issue, which he described as "theoretical," and clarified that there is no point in trying to make Netanyahu step down immediately because he has been charged.

Case 4000 alleges that Netanyahu made decisions benefiting media mogul Shaul Elovitch — the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, Israel's largest telecommunications firm – in exchange for positive coverage on Walla News, a website owned by Elovitch.

In Case 1000, he stands accused of receiving lavish gifts from two wealthy friends — Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer — in exchange for political favors such as promoting the two moguls’ business interests or obtaining visas. Case 2000 centers around Netanyahu's deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, in which the prime minister would curb rival paper Israel Hayom in exchange for better coverage in Arnon's.

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