Just hours after withdrawing his request for immunity from prosecution earlier today Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally charged in a Jerusalem court on allegations of graft.
An indictment was filed at the Jerusalem District Court by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit this morning against the prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The court will now set a date for the beginning of the trial.
Netanyahu, who was visiting Washington ahead of the launch of President Donald Trump’s long-anticipated peace plan, dropped his immunity request this morning, deciding ‘not to let this dirty game continue,’ in a statement issued on his official Facebook page.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was set to convene to discuss the formation of a committee to debate the prime minister’s immunity request. It’s still expected to meet even after the withdrawal.
The Knesset was widely expected to reject Netanyahu’s immunity request, which would have dealt a massive blow to the prime minister ahead of the 2 March parliamentary elections – the third in less than a year. Netanyahu’s Likud party was planning to boycott Tuesday’s Knesset session.
Netanyahu’s was indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in November in three separate cases. He has denied any wrongdoing.
‘In this fateful hour for the people of Israel, when I am in the United States on a historic mission to design the permanent borders of Israel and ensure our security for decades to come, the Knesset is expected to start another spectacle in the circus of removing immunity,’ Netanyahu wrote.
Trump, himself under the cloud of his impeachment trial in the Senate, appears poised to offer Netanyahu some needed help in the form of the most generous American peace proposal ever. The prime minister has sought to portray himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead Israel through difficult times. He has tried to use his close friendship with Trump as a strategic asset to stay in power.
Netanyahu’s chief political opponent, Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White party, said in a statement that ‘Netanyahu is going to trial – we must go forward.’
‘Nobody could run a country and simultaneously manage three serious criminal charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust,’ Gantz added.
Netanyahu and Gantz are set to face off in a third round of national elections after two inconclusive elections in 2019.
Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of Arab parties in the Israeli parliament, said ‘the path to trial is paved and no diplomatic public relations stunt in the world’ would prevent him from being brought to justice.
Netanyahu and Trump were scheduled to meet later Tuesday at the White House for the peace plan’s announcement.
Likud and Blue and White were deadlocked in April and September elections, triggering a third general election within a year.
Netanyahu is to appear alongside Trump to make public the plan to resolve the dispute with the Palestinians, although they say they have not taken part in its drafting and they have fiercely condemned it in advance.
Netanyahu, who also had a meeting with Trump on Monday, praised the president as ‘the greatest friend that Israel had had in the White House,’ and described the peace plan as ‘the deal of the century’.
Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing opposition Meretz party, said Netanyahu’s impending trial was ‘the shame of the century’.
‘The prime minister is indeed making history today, and is accountable for the Shame of the Century – the first serving prime minister standing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust,’ he said in a statement.
Under Israeli law, a sitting prime minister is only required to step down once convicted of an offence and after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.