The embattled prime minister faces corruption indictment and a third general election in 11 months.
Israel‘s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he would seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the three corruption cases he faces, a move that could delay criminal proceedings against him for months.
Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over allegations that he granted state favours worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in return for gifts and favourable coverage.
He denies any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a witch-hunt by the media and left to remove a popular right-wing leader.
A trial cannot begin once an immunity request is made, and Netanyahu announced the politically risky move in a speech on live television just four hours before a deadline for an application was to expire.
Netanyahu, who was re-elected leader of the ruling Likud party last week, has often accused judicial and law enforcement officials of trying to drive him from office and said only the voting public can choose who will lead the country.
He said in his address that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he was entitled to Parliament’s protection.
His allies have issued stern warnings against what they call an “activist” court overstepping its authority.
Normally, a request for immunity would need to be approved by a parliamentary committee and then submitted to a full vote. But the committee charged with handling such matters does not exist because a government was never formed after September’s election.
The attorney general cannot file the indictment until the question of immunity is settled, delaying any court proceedings.
Amid deep political deadlock, Parliament seems unlikely to decide the issue before Israel’s March 2 election.
Netanyahu will need the support of 61 of its 120 legislators for immunity to be granted, the same majority that eluded him in attempts to form a government after national ballots in April and September.