Netanyahu withdraws request for immunity, trial to start within weeks

"As I have done all my life, I will continue to invest all for the future of our country and for you, the citizens of Israel."

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – ignorant on the subject of immunity? (photo credit: REUTERS)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – ignorant on the subject of immunity?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his request for immunity from prosecution on Tuesday, just hours before the Knesset was scheduled to hold a vote on the request.
Netanyahu posted a letter addressed to the "Citizens of Israel" on his Facebook page announcing the decision.
"Citizens of Israel - At this fateful hour for the people of Israel, while I am in the US on a historic mission to shape Israel's permanent borders and ensure our security for future generations, another Knesset show is expected to open in the immunity circus.
"This is the continued personal pursuit by the obsessed 'just not Bibi' people. Instead of understanding the size of the hour and transcending political considerations, they continue to engage in cheap politics that damage a crucial moment in the history of the state. Since I was not given due process, because all of the Knesset rules are being trampled underfoot – and since the results of the procedure were dictated in advance without a proper discussion as required – I decided not to let this dirty game go on."
Netanyahu wrote that he officially informed Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein that he had rescinded the immunity request. Hinting at his trial that withdrawing the request expedited, he said he would soon disprove the claims made against him.
"But now, I will not let my political opponents use this matter to interfere with the historical move I am leading," he wrote. "As I have done all my life, I will continue to invest all for the future of our country and for you, the citizens of Israel."
Netanyahu's rescinding of the immunity request means that the indictments in his three criminal cases could now formally be submitted to the Jerusalem District Court by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, and it is now possible for his trial to begin before the March 2 election. A Justice Ministry spokesman said he did know yet when the indictment would be filed.
After rescinding the request that he had submitted within 30 days of his indictment, Netanyahu cannot request immunity from the next Knesset, a Knesset spokesman said.
Despite Netanyahu's decision, Blue and White did not cancel the Knesset plenum meeting the party had initiated in order to form a House Committee that could formally reject Netanyahu's immunity request. The party decided to still form the committee, to deal with the immunity request of Likud MK Haim Katz. The proposal passed by a 60 to zero vote.
Edelstein and other coalition MKs walked out of the plenum meeting after ministers and MKs were sworn in, and boycotted the rest of the meeting. MKs from Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List took turns at the meeting calling upon Netanyahu to resign.
Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz told a meeting of his faction that symbolically took place outside the Supreme Court that it is "time for Netanyahu to clear the political arena, take care of his criminal affairs and leave us to worry about the immunity of those who really need it."
Netanyahu is currently in the United States where he met with US President Donald Trump about the "Deal of the Century" on Monday. The two are expected to give a joint statement on Tuesday when the peace plan is expected to be officially revealed.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz also met with Trump in Washington, but left in the afternoon to attend the Knesset vote on Tuesday.
In response to the withdrawal of Netanyahu's immunity request, Gantz said, "Netanyahu is going to trial - we must move forward. Israeli citizens have a clear choice: a prime minister who will work for them or a prime minister working for himself. No one can run a state and simultaneously run three serious criminal cases for bribery, fraud and breach of trust."
Blue and White MK Yair Lapid told the Knesset plenum that "the current government only exists to handle the legal issues of the man who from today is the indicted Benjamin Netanyahu. He said Netanyahu knew his request was "ludicrous," adding "there’s no such thing as immunity against bribery."
"You can’t handle three criminal cases and while handling the Deal of the Century. If Netanyahu were as patriotic as he claims to be, he would have resigned by now."
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.