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Israel braces for dramatic day with PM immunity vote

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Israel braces for dramatic day with PM immunity vote

As Knesset meets to start proceedings, Netanyahu will be thousands of miles away in Washington with the US president, who will unveil his long-awaited peace plan

Tuesday was shaping up to be a dramatic day for Israel with the start of Knesset proceedings on Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity in his corruption probes. Meanwhile, the prime minister himself will be thousands of miles away in Washington, where US President Trump was preparing to release his long-promised peace plan later in the day.

Adding to the tension are fears that Palestinians in the West Bank could hold large-scale protests against the plan, which Ramallah has already rejected, possibly leading to clashes with Israeli forces.

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Proceedings at the Knesset were set to begin at 11 a.m. with lawmakers to vote on forming a Knesset House Committee, the parliamentary body that considers immunity requests. That body will then take up the issue, and may issue a decision — almost certainly rejecting Netanyahu’s immunity request — by election day.

But proceedings were not expected to last long as the rightist-religious bloc behind the prime minister — which has fought against holding the vote, hoping to delay the establishment of the committee until after the elections — announced Sunday its members would boycott the plenum on Tuesday in a symbolic move meant to deny the vote public legitimacy.

But the vote is still expected to move ahead, as a majority of 65 lawmakers in the 120-member parliament have already said they will support the formation of a House Committee.

According to The Times of Israel, Netanyahu announced at the start of January that he would ask the Knesset for parliamentary immunity, as he faced a legal deadline to do so following Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to charge him in three corruption cases. Mandelblit cannot officially indict Netanyahu until the Knesset votes on his request.

Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims, without evidence, that the charges are part of an attempted left-wing “coup” against him involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecution.

But the bloc of right-wing and religious parties that are backing him in the run-up to election day lacks the 61-vote majority to grant him that immunity — or even to delay a decision until after March 2, which would have allowed him to get through the election unindicted.

The unveiling Tuesday of Trump’s long-awaited peace plan, whose timing was announced last week, has been criticized in Israel as an attempt to rescue Netanyahu from the immunity proceedings.

The plan will be unveiled at 12 p.m. in Washington (7 p.m. in Israel.)

The premier’s main election rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, met  Trump on Monday before rushing back to Israel to take part in the Knesset deliberation.

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The discussions are “important for the future of our democracy,” Gantz said, using the opportunity to highlight why he believes Netanyahu should not be allowed to be involved in decisions crucial to Israel’s future.

“No one has the right to lead an entire country with such a complicated diplomatic- and security-related situation, while all his activities and thoughts are dedicated to his personal interests. That’s what Netanyahu said about Olmert, and that’s what I say about Netanyahu,” he said.

Gantz was referring to a comment then-opposition leader Netanyahu made more than a decade ago about then-prime minister Ehud Olmert — that a premier “neck-deep in investigations has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel.”

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