Lieberman Says Will Back Pardoning PM if He Retires From Politics, Gantz 'Would Consider' It

'Nobody wants to see him in prison, but nobody wants to see him as part of the political system either,' kingmaker says

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman speaks the Knesset, December 11, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that his party would support granting pardon to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the three corruption cases he is charged in if he retires from public life, leading the premier's main rival Benny Gantz to also voice potential support for such a move.

Lieberman, whose party garnered eight Knesset seats in September's election, is a key figure in Israel's deadlocked electoral process that resulted in a third election to be held on March 2, 2020. The former defense minister's support is essential for Netanyahu in the efforts to form a government.

In an interview with Ynet, Lieberman said "unfortunately, Netanyahu is becoming a burden. Nobody wants to see him in prison, but nobody wants to see him as part of the Israeli political system either. Everyone is willing to allow him to leave political life with dignity."

The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman added that "if a bill [for Netanyahu to leave public life] is presented before the Knesset, I'm certain it would be approved by everyone."

Moreover, he said that his party would "certainly support an arrangement under which Netanyahu would be allowed to retire with dignity."

Addressing the option for the premier to receive immunity from prosecution, Lieberman noted that Netanyahu "won't have a majority to seek immunity, even Likud members are expressing their share of objections [against granting Netanyahu immunity]."

Kahol Lavan leader Gantz told supporters at a Tel Aviv rally later on Thursday that "We really wouldn't like to see another prime minister going to jail," referring to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who resigned before being charged and convicted of corruption. "This is something no Israeli citizen, no matter what the circumstances are, would want to see."

Gantz stressed that "when it's relevant, depending on the judiciary's recommendations, we would consider it. If we can prevent this shameful sight, so be it."

Labor Chairman Amir Peretz, however, opposed the initiative, saying "every citizen in the State of Israel should be equal before the law."

Also on Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin said that the third election is a "decisive moment for the Israeli public," and called on Israeli citizens "not to sink into despair or useless grievences. We can not lose our faith in the democratic process and our ability to shape the reality of our lives with our own hands and by our right."

Rivlin also expressed hope that this election cycle would be the last for the next four years. "I believe we will find the inner strength to grow as a nation and a society from the divide and political disagreements between us," he said.

Earlier this week, Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz called on Netanyahu to renounce his intention to seek immunity from the Knesset in order to avoid a third cycle of elections within a year.

"If you renounce [seeking] immunity, we can start negotiations. You already dragged us into two rounds of election because of immunity. The State of Israel deserves to know what your intentions are before you drag it into another expensive election campaign," Gantz told Netanyahu.

On November 21, Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister in Israel's history to be charged with bribery, fraud and breach in three corruption cases, dubbed Cases 4000, 2000 and 1000.