Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he would ask the Knesset or Parliament for immunity to avoid being brought to trial in three corruption cases.
"I intend to make a request to the speaker of the Knesset," Netanyahu said in a live address on Wednesday, adding that such a request "would be in line with the law... (and) with the goal of continuing to serve you, for the future of Israel", Efe news reported.
The announcement came just hours before the deadline for requesting such immunity, the last resort remaining to Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister to dodge - or at least delay - trial on bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases brought against him by Israel's attorney general in November.
During his speech, Netanyahu, who is the leader of Israel's right-wing Likud party, denounced what he called a campaign of "incitement" against him and emphasized that the immunity law seeks to protect elected politicians from "invented" lawsuits and to guarantee that they may continue serving in the posts to which they were elected.
The decision by Netanyahu, who earlier this week called parliamentary immunity the "cornerstone of democracy", thus foreshadowing his intention to request it, will have the practical effect of delaying the start of court proceedings against him, probably until after the March 2 national elections, the third in less than a year in Israel, which is enduring an unprecedented logjam in its politics.
As a result of the political impasse, the parliamentary committee tasked with deciding on the immunity request is not formulated and the Knesset is not even in session.
If Parliament does not formulate the committee so that it may decide upon the premier's request, the decision on immunity probably would not be made until the formation of a government following the elections and the appointment of such a committee.
The Knesset's decision on the matter - if unfavourable to Netanyahu - could be appealed to Israel's Supreme Court, which would delay the start of a trial even more. If he receives immunity, that would have to be ratified by the full Knesset and, if that were done, the premier would not be able to be brought to trial as long as he remained in his post.
The parties represented in the Knesset were not able to agree to form a government after the elections last April and September, and the country has been in a political stalemate for months during which Netanyahu's legal situation has become more and more problematic.