Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caught many people by surprise when he withdrew his request for immunity. The move came less that a month after the Netanyahu formally requested parliament to grant him immunity after he was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Why Did Netanyahu Withdraw His Request For Immunity?
Notably, Netanyahu withdrew his request just hours before he appeared with President Donald Trump at the White House for the unveiling of the Israel-Palestine peace plan. There’s no doubt that the request for immunity was bound to be rejected by the Knesset after Netanyahu failed to lobby enough support including in his own party. His party the Likud had distanced itself from him in a courteously by announcing that it would boycott the session.
Faced with no other option, Netanyahu posted on his Facebook page saying that the proceedings in parliament would have been a circus and he did not want to take part in a dirty game . “I informed the Knesset that I am withdrawing my immunity request,” he wrote. This withdrawal now opens the way for legal proceedings against him to move on.
Immunity Was A Political Liability For Netanyahu—And A Gift To His Enemies
With elections fast approaching the request for immunity has been one of the political weapons his political adversaries have been using to disparage him. Benny Gantz’s strong sentiments on the immunity hearings at political meetings showed how much he was yearning to send his rival to the political gallows. In mid January he told a faction of Blue and White in Tel-Aviv:
“Netanyahu has requested immunity and, we will use all parliamentary means and tools that are available to us to deliberate on his request,” adding, “I will not let anyone harm the democratic process and prevent such a hearing . Decisions on this issue must be made by tomorrow . We will not allow anyone to stall.”
According to sources there was even a plan’s to replace Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein if he did not allow the hearing on Netanyahu’s immunity to go ahead. However they were caught off guard by the Prime Minister’s decision to drop the charges during the US visit.
Netanyahu Shows His Political Cunning
Netanyahu is a clever politician he knew what he need to do take the wind out his opponent’s sail, and also to hold his party together. On top of that, members of his Likud party had been advising him to drop immunity so that the criminal case wouldn’t dominate the campaigns. Well aware of the situation he decided to drop the request at an opportune time during which he could also gain some political mileage—rather than wait to be embarrassed.
This was intentionally planned to happen on January 28 so that it was overshadowed by the peace plan which he is greatly bunking on for his re-election as prime minister. While making the announcement Netanyahu didn’t hesitate to paint himself as a politician who was out on a serious historic mission while his opponents were busy engaging in petty politics of immunity.
“Instead of understanding the greatness of the hour and rising above political considerations , they continue to engage in cheap politics that are damaging to this decisive moment in the history of the country,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.
Israel’s Political Battleground Has Shifted
This announcement effectively shifted the political battleground denying Blue and White a key ammunition they had always used in their campaigns. Now Gant and his allies will have to find another weapon against the Likud party.
As if that was enough, While the Blues and White were busy pondering their next move they were thrown in another spin when the Israel-Palestine plan was announced shortly after. According to some analysts , through the deal Trump is helping Netanyahu politically in the hopes that, Netanyahu will help him in the 2020 US election, especially considering the influence Jewish interest groups wield in US politics.
Gantz’s Perplexing Dilemma
The reason why Gantz and his party are now in dilemma is that Israeli sovereignty has always been on top of his election agenda. Last year he vowed to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan valley after Netanyahu promised to apply Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements. But with the US peace plan proposing Israeli control over Jordan and the West Bank—excluding East Jerusalem—Gantz’s agenda appears to have been thrown in the trash bin. It is no longer needed if Netanyahu is already doing it.
As one Isreali political analyst said “Netanyahu, once on his political death bed, is now recuperating: running the show, overseeing historic moves, dictating pace, while his people are busy building Gantz political coffin.”
Within Gantz’s own party Blue and White, there are those who believe the proposal pulled the rug under Gantz’s feet in favour of Netanyahu. “Netanyahu will now take advantage of the new agenda until election day . He will squeeze this lemon to the very end and dictate the pace “ said one party official.
More Successes For Netanyahu
Putin’s decision to release Naama Issachar—an Israeli woman who had been detained for drug trafficking—capped Netanyahu’s week of success and is expected to boost his political standing. Putin took the move just a day before the Isreali leader arrived in Moscow to discuss with him the peace proposal. Netanyahu had personally assured Issachar’s mother that he would get her daughter released.
Whether all these will help Netanyahu to be re-elected remain to be seen. His annexation plan with Trump is already in question, while the latest opinion poll shows he is trailing Gantz by around two seats.