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In blow to Netanyahu, lawmakers vote to set up panel to debate his immunity

Proposal to establish House Committee passes 16 to 5, allowing lawmakers to potentially vote on, and likely dismiss, Netanyahu’s request to evade prosecution.

The committee will have 30 members “to ensure representation for all factions,” said Arrangements Committee chair MK Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White: eight seats each for Blue and White and Likud; three seats for the Joint List; two apiece for Shas, Labor-Gesher, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism; and one seat each for the Democratic Camp, the Jewish Home and the New Right.

Likud MK: “Today, 61 MKs have hijacked the Knesset during the election recess. You do as you please with the majority of the Knesset that has lost public trust,” he said. “We will not take part in any debate or any vote. We are giving you the keys to the Knesset.”

The afternoon’s vote means that the House Committee can debate and potentially vote on Netanyahu’s immunity request in the coming weeks, perhaps even days, long before election day on March 2.

Likud sources have said they will try to delay the process by tying it up in court and with other challenges, hoping to push it past March 2, when a new Knesset will be voted in.

Netanyahu, in November, became the first sitting prime minister with charges against him when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict the prime minister for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.

Netanyahu announced on January 1 that he would seek Knesset immunity from prosecution, submitting the request hours before the legal deadline. But he had anticipated the matter would only be debated in the next Knesset term, after the March elections, by when he would hope to have won a parliamentary majority.