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Israel’s Netanyahu Praises Immunity From Charges as ‘Cornerstone of Democracy’ Amid Looming Trial

© REUTERS / Abir Sultan/PoolIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, December 29, 2019
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, December 29, 2019 - Sputnik International
The prime minister has been charged with corruption and breach of trust over accusations of receiving lavish gifts in exchange for political favours and tipping news coverage to flatter him. He denies any wrongdoing and framed his indictment as a politically-orchestrated “witch hunt”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dropped a major hint abiout whether he will seek immunity from prosecution on corruption charges, but would not explicitly confirm such an intention.

“Immunity isn’t against democracy; immunity is a cornerstone of democracy", he told supporters at a Hanukkah event in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

“The only immunity I am seeking right now is immunity from idle propaganda", he added.

Netanyahu, 70, was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three separate cases. He became the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted in office. He denies any wrongdoing and described his legal woes as an “attempted coup” by his political opponents.

Netanyahu has until 1 January to request immunity from the charges and needs the approval of 61 members of the 120-seat Knesset to pass that motion. His Likud party has only 32 seats, while his alliance with religious and right-wing parties is some five seats short of having a majority, even if they anonymously voted to shield the prime minister.

A request for immunity will likely resonate poorly with voters, if polls are to be believed, but it will delay the start of a potential trial until the moment a new government is formed (that is, at least until the 2 March election).

That general election will be the third one in 11 months. In two previous instances, Netanyahu and his major rivals from the Blue and White party failed to achieve a decisive victory and forge a ruling coalition.

The High Court of Justice is set to decide on Tuesday whether Netanyahu is eligible to form a government despite his indictment, as Israeli law offers no clarity on that issue.

Netanyahu believes he should be able to govern. He told the High Court on Sunday that it was “unthinkable” for the Attorney General, who unveiled the graft charges, to decide “who can run the country and who cannot".

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