Israel Prime Minister seeks immunity, buying time until after vote

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By The Associated Press  with NBC News World News
Image: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Dec. 29, 2019.   -  Copyright  Abir Sultan

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he will ask parliament to grant him immunity from corruption charges, a step that is expected to delay his trial for months.

The step most likely puts the trial on hold until after elections in March, when he hopes to win a majority coalition that will shield him from prosecution.

The announcement essentially turns the upcoming election campaign into a referendum on whether Netanyahu should be granted immunity and remain in office or step down to stand trial.

A recent poll indicated that a majority of Israelis oppose giving him immunity.

Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust after failing to assemble a governing majority following back-to-back-elections last year. He now gets a third shot at holding onto his office in March.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu repeated his assertion that he is the victim of an unfair conspiracy and that he would seek to invoke the law that would protect him from prosecution while he remains in office.

"In order to continue to lead Israel to great achievements, I intend to approach the speaker of the Knesset in accordance with chapter 4C of the law, in order to fulfill my right, my duty and my mission to continue to serve you for the future of Israel," he said.

The request most likely means that parliament will address the matter after March elections.

The current caretaker government is not empowered to make a decision on granting Netanyahu immunity.

In order to debate the matter, parliament would have to appoint a special committee that needs to study the request. But it remains unclear whether it will be allowed to do so.