The Prime Minister, who was in Washington for the Tuesday release of President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East proposal, added he “wouldn’t allow his political rivals to use the issue to disrupt the historic” occasion.
Shortly after, the Justice Ministry said that in light of Netanyahu’s decision to withdraw the request, prosecutors had submitted the indictment to the Jerusalem district court.
A spokesman for the court said it wasn’t possible to say when a trial might begin, but local media have reported proceedings aren’t likely to start before a crunch March 2 general election.
“He knew that immunity would not be granted to him anyway so he wanted to spare himself from the humiliation and because of the election,” said Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.
“He wants people to talk about what’s going on with Trump and America, he wants the headlines to deal with things that are good to him.”
While Netanyahu didn’t have majority backing in the Knesset when he asked for immunity earlier this month, he was trying to buy time. He gambled that a key panel that must debate the petition wouldn’t be formed while a caretaker government is in place, and that his request – and by extension, his trial – would be delayed until after ballot.
Israelis will go to the polls for the third time in less than a year in early March as Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, battles for his political survival against challenger Benny Gantz.
Victory would enable Netanyahu to revive the immunity request before a sympathetic parliament. But after the assembly’s legal adviser ruled earlier this month the panel could be formed now and Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, couldn’t block it, that stall tactic fizzled.
The Prime Minister can still try to push through a law granting him immunity from prosecution if he wins the next election, Fuchs said.
The attorney-general’s office told Netanyahu in November he would be tried in three cases, on charges including bribery. He’s accused of abusing his position to take gifts from wealthy friends and scheming to benefit media moguls to win favourable coverage.