Shortly before the release on Tuesday of details on the Mideast peace plan by U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his request for immunity on the three indictments he currently faces. His decision also came just hours before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit submitted the indictments to the courts, beginning a process that will lead to Netanyahu’s trial.

In announcing his decision, Netanyahu called the situation in the Knesset an “immunity circus,” and that it is a continuation of the obsessive pursuit after me of the “anyone but Bibi” campaign.

“Instead of understanding the greatness of the hour and elevating above political considerations, they continue to engage in cheap politics that damages this crucial moment in the [Jewish] state’s history,” he said, referring to the events that started at noon in front of an appreciate audience at the White House.

“I will not allow my political opponents to use this matter to interfere with the historical move I am leading,” said Netanyahu. “As I have done throughout my life, I will continue to invest everything for the future of our country and for you, the citizens of Israel.”

Ronen Hoffman, a former member of Knesset and professor of political science at the IDC Herzliya, told JNS that “Netanyahu knew he would have no chance to gain immunity since he lacked a majority for this. So he preferred to change the news of the day and avoid the people of Israel seeing a split screen—one half showing him with President Trump in Washington and one showing Knesset deliberations about his immunity. Now, the entire focus will be on the Trump peace plan and Netanyahu side by side with the president trying to make history for Israel.”

Predictably, Netanyahu’s Likud Party expressed support for the prime minister’s withdrawal of the immunity request. Likud Knesset member Miki Zohar tweeted that “the prime minister’s decision was the correct one in light of the crazy, hate-filled and irresponsible behavior of the left led by Blue and White. … Now it all depends on the court which must do everything to bring justice to light.”

Netanyahu’s opponents wasted no time attacking him following his announcement.

Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, who was in Washington on Monday also to meet with Trump, was his way back to Israel to take part in the deliberations and votes regarding Netanyahu’s immunity request when he heard the news. His response? It’s time for Israel to move on.

“Netanyahu is going to trial; we must move forward, “he said. “The citizens of Israel now have a clear choice—a prime minister who will work on their behalf or a prime minister who will be busy with himself. No one is capable of running a state while simultaneously managing three serious criminal cases for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”

Amir Peretz, chairman of Labor-Meretz, went further and called for Netanyahu to resign immediately, tweeting that “the Israeli public does not want to see a prime minister on the defense stand. Resign in an honorable manner and stand before the law like a regular citizen.”

‘This was not a proper step’

While Netanyahu is now banking on all eyes on the newly released Mideast initiative and seeing him as the only one who can lead the country to the historic opportunities presented by the peace plan, including Israeli control over all settlements in Judea and Samaria, Hoffman believes that Netanyahu may have miscalculated.

“I cannot see any president of Israel giving the mandate to form a government to any prime minister candidate who is scheduled to appear in court after criminal indictments have been submitted. So he may have won the battle today, and the Israeli public will focus exclusively on the White House, but now that he has no immunity, the president will not give him the mandate to form a government, and that realization could cost him votes.”

Israeli law does not prevent the president from giving Netanyahu the mandate even while under indictment and while his case is being tried in court.

Professor Yedidia Stern, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, explained to JNS that Israeli law specifically leaves the question of who should lead in the hands of the voters (with the exception of when a prime minister is found guilty in court).

Therefore, he believes “that there is nothing preventing the president from giving Netanyahu the mandate to form a government if this is what the voters choose.”

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett attacked Mandelblit and the prosecution for rushing to submit the indictment to the court while Netanyahu was in the United States, tweeting, “What burned in them to reduce the dignity of Prime Minister Netanyahu specifically when he is there, outside of Israel, representing all of us, all citizens of Israel? They could have waited one or two days until he returns to Israel. … This was not a proper step.”

Now that the indictment has been handed to the court, the determination needs to be made on which three judges will preside over the case. It usually takes a few weeks from the submission of the indictment to the first hearing; however, the prime minister’s attorneys are expected to request a delay until after the March 2 election.

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