JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made history Tuesday, becoming the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office. Netanyahu hopes U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace proposal will move the Israeli public's focus away from the charges just five weeks before Israel’s next round of elections.
It was just a few months ago that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made history by becoming the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history. Now he has done it again, becoming the first sitting prime minister to be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The indictment came after Netanyahu withdrew his request for immunity from prosecution, saying on Facebook that he won’t let his political opponents use this issue to disturb the historic movement he is leading.
He was referring to President Trump’s proposed deal, which aims to give Israel control over chunks of the West Bank. The prime minister was not expected to get immunity in any case, but it would have delayed the indictment until after Israel’s March election, allowing Netanyahu to campaign without being under indictment.
Israeli political analyst Tamar Almog said Netanyahu knew he would not get immunity. She said that it became clear that Netanyahu did not have a political majority in the Knesset for immunity.
Other analysts said the immunity proceedings would have provided weeks of headlines that Netanyahu would prefer to avoid.
Eli Avidar, a Knesset member from Yisrael Beitenu, told I-24 New that Netanyahu should face trial like anyone else.
"I really don’t understand why he did it, why he did it to begin with, why he applied for something that he said for eight months he’s not going to do it, and in the end he changed his opinion and he brought us to a situation where he is wasting the time of the parliament so I feel sorry for it, but I feel happy because the prime minister is the one politician that is enjoying most of the abilities not to be out of office because of legal proceedings," he said.
According to Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office even during his trial, which would not begin until after Israel’s March 2 election. But his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, said that no one can run a state and at the same time manage three serious criminal cases.
The upcoming March elections are just five weeks away. But they are also the third round of elections in less than a year, and the Israeli public is apathetic.
Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz have been able to cobble together a majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament. After the next election, Netanyahu’s trial will start. According to Israeli law, if he is convicted of bribery he would have to resign, but that potential outcome is many months in the future.