Lieberman: Netanyahu Heads to Washington to 'Flee' Immunity Discussions

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman says his party has submitted a bill proposal to annex the Jordan Valley to the Knesset, which could be approved with or without Gantz's Kahol Lavan

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.
Emil Salman

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman criticized Saturday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for departing for the United States next week and thus skipping a Knesset discussion regarding his request to receive immunity in the three corruption cases against him.

Netanyahu won't be able to attend the discussion slated for Tuesday since he is set to fly out to Washington on Sunday afternoon and return to Israel by Wednesday. On Thursday, President Donald Trump invited Netanyahu and his main political rival and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz to the White House to discuss the unveiling of his Mideast Peace Plan.

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Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that both Netanyahu and Gantz had accepted the invitation, and that Netanyahu had suggested Gantz travel to Washington as well. Kahol Lavan did not officially confirm Gantz's attendance and perceived Pence's statement as publicly humiliating.

Later on Thursday, Trump said his administration would publish the long-awaited Mideast peace plan before Netanyahu's scheduled visit to Washington on January 28.

On Friday Gantz said he was debating whether to accept Trump's invitation ahead of the plan.

Israeli officials said that the plan would promise the application of Israeli sovereignty to all existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in addition to annexing the Jordan Valley, which would become Israel's eastern border.

Speaking in a public event in the central city of Ra'anana, Lieberman said that "I've heard that the prime minister intends to depart for Washington as soon as Sunday – he's fleeing to the United States, while avoiding his commitments."

The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, who according to recent polls could once again be kingmaker and decide the leader of which political bloc would secure the backing of enough lawmakers to become prime minister after Israel's March 2 election, added that "Instead of driving two-and-a-half kilometers to the Knesset, he [Netanyahu] prefers to fly 9,500 kilometers to Washington."

Bashing the premier, Lieberman said: "It's clear that Netanyahu worked very hard to escape [the immunity discussions], and it would be best if he kisses his immunity goodbye before he brings peace to the Middle East."  

Doubling down on his harsh criticism of Netanyahu, Lieberman said that "There was a commitment to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, and the prime minister, like always, never intended to do so.

Referring to Netanyahu's previous promises before elections that he would annex the Jordan Valley, Lieberman said that "It’s clear that there's a vehement majority in the Knesset to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, and Yisrael Beiteinu has already submitted a bill proposal to annex [that area], which can be approved in three reading on Tuesday."

Lieberman added that "The bill proposal can be approved with or without Kahol Lavan, which reminds me of the weather – sometimes it rains, sometimes it’s dry, sometimes they are in favor of [annexing] the Jordan Valley, sometimes they're against it.

Moreover, Lieberman said that "If [Kahol Lavan's] three generals are willing to cooperate with those who backed Islamic Jihad in the last round of violence between Israel and Gaza, they are not worthy to lead the country."    

On Tuesday Gantz said that he would work to advance Israel's annexation of the Jordan Valley after Israel's March 2 election.

In the past, Gantz opposed the publication of the plan during an election campaign, saying such a move would be a gift to Netanyahu and "outright intervention."

Touching on the release of Trump's much-anticipated Mideast plan, Lieberman said that "This is not a good timing and releasing the plan now would prevent a practical discussion about the components of the plan, which I've yet to seen. When dealing with a political plan of this sort, every word matters, and should be thoroughly addressed.

Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan argued that the White House is coming to Netanyahu's rescue by trying to delay the discussions regarding his request for immunity.

"Once Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced that the Knesset would begin discussions on whether to grant Netanyahu immunity on Tuesday, our assessment was that he did so while knowing that Netanyahu and Gantz will be invited to Washington," Kahol Lavan said in a statement.

Kahol Lavan added they have no intention of postponing the discussion next week.

Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz also criticized the timing of the unveiling of the plan, saying that "the issue whether to travel [to Washington] or not is secondary, adding that what's really important is the plan itself.

"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck – it's a duck. There's nothing serious about a political plan presented several weeks before election," Peretz said.