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Likud’s ‘immunity law’ threatens to paralyse Netanyahu government

Israel coalition partners reported to be in talks over law that would suspend police investigations

    Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud MK David Bitan
    Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud MK David Bitan Flash 90

    A proposed law that would grant serving prime ministers immunity from police investigations overshadowed this week’s opening of Israel’s parliament and threatened to paralyse the coalition.

    The Likud members who tabled the law denied that its intention was to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the subject of a long-running police investigation.

    But critics said it was being pushed to help him evade corruption charges and “delegitimise” the investigations ongoing against him.

    David Amsalem — the Likud MK who proposed the law — and David Bitan, the chief whip and coalition chairman, are trying to bring it to a vote in the Knesset. 

    They said police investigations had prevented the last four prime ministers —  Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Mr Netanyahu — from governing effectively and that it would make more sense to suspend investigations until the subject vacated his or her office.

    But it was not clear whether the law would apply only to new investigations or also suspend existing ones, stoking speculation that it is intended for Mr Netanyahu’s benefit.

    Likud planned to present the law proposal to a committee that includes its coalition partners  on Sunday. 

    But Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, from the Jewish Home party, demanded the immunity law was removed from the agenda, arguing that legislation on constitutional matters cannot be rushed.

    There was also resistance from other parties in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, including the centrist Kulanu. 

    Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria called it “a blow to the rule of law. It puts the prime minister above the law and sends a message to the public legitimising corruption.”

    Mr Bitan has threatened even early elections if they continue to refuse, but Likud insiders speaking to the JC have admitted that the prime minister will not risk his coalition over the law. 

    The Likud sources said they were exploring the possibility of an agreement with Jewish Home with a view to presenting the proposal again in a few weeks.

    Mr Netanyahu has not taken a public position, but is said to be aware that public opposition is mounting.

    In a poll published this week 63 percent said they opposed the immunity law. 

    The proposal came as Israel’s president used his speech opening the Knesset’s winter session to indirectly criticise the prime minister.

    President Reuven Rivlin attacked “the attempt to threaten the court, to weaken it as an institution” and warned of a situation where “majority rule is the sole ruler.” 

    With not mentioning Mr Netanyahu by name, it was clear to all present that Mr Rivlin was criticising him when he said that “governance is navigating the ship, not making sure that every sailor on board is in your own image. Leadership in a democratic state is the art of creating consensus, not coercion.”

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