Fighting for his future, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has asked Parliament to grant him immunity from prosecution in three graft cases, a rare and contentious step that critics say violates the principle of equality before the law.
The immunity request is the latest twist in the political and legal drama that has paralyzed the Israeli government. Long famed for his survival skills, Netanyahu is taking the risky move to fend off charges that imperil his legacy and could eventually land him in prison.
But the effort also threatens to further polarize a divided nation and prolong the political deadlock that has left the country without a fully functioning government for nearly a year.
Submitted barely three hours before the legal deadline, the immunity request could delay for months the criminal cases against Netanyahu, who faces a general election in two months, the country’s third in less than a year.
If it is approved, immunity could keep him out of court for as long as he remains a member of Parliament.
Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing.
He had kept the country guessing about his next move, apparently wary that an immunity request could endanger his re-election prospects and that of his conservative Likud party by fueling accusations that he was putting himself above the law.
In an effort to limit the political damage, Netanyahu played down the impact of his request. Delivering a statement live on television during prime time, he insisted it was a “temporary” measure that would be valid for only one term of Parliament.
He said immunity was meant to prevent “political indictments whose purpose is to impair the will of the people,” adding, “Unfortunately, that’s what happened in my case.”