Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “not interested in” legislation that would make sitting prime ministers immune to criminal investigations, he said in a meeting of Likud ministers Sunday, undermining coalition chairman David Bitan’s threats to call an election if the other parties in the government don’t support it.
“About the ‘French bill,’ I want to say clearly: I am not interested in any law relating to investigations happening now that are connected to me, or that are happening now and are not connected to me,” Netanyahu stated.
The “French bill” is an amendment to Basic Law: Government, proposed by Likud MK David Amsalem, gives sitting prime ministers immunity from criminal investigation, with exceptions including crimes that endanger national security. It is based on a French constitutional provision protecting the French president.
The prime minister’s comments came as Bitan publicly said he would call an election if coalition partners do not support the bill.
In the same meeting of Likud ministers, Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a former coalition chairman, questioned Bitan’s strategy.
Last week, coalition partners made clear more than once that they would not allow the bill to pass, but Bitan continued to bring it up.
The Bayit Yehudi party decided to exercise the veto power over Basic Laws and amendments to them that all coalition parties have, and Kulanu gave its lawmakers freedom to vote according to their conscience. MKs in both parties expressed discomfort with passing the immunity bill now when Netanyahu is under multiple investigations.
Bitan and Bayit Yehudi reached an agreement that, instead of the “French bill,” they would promote legislation that would prohibit police from making recommendations when they give the attorney-general evidence at the end of an investigation. On Saturday night, Bitan threatened to call an election because Bayit Yehudi was backing down from the agreement, but Bayit Yehudi said nothing had changed on their end.
The coalition chairman was heard raging at Bayit Yehudi outside Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“Bayit Yehudi are a bunch of liars. If they want, we will bring down the government over the bill to prevent the prime minister’s investigations,” Bitan shouted, according to Army Radio.
Meanwhile, Bitan decided to freeze all non-ministerial legislation coming from the coalition, so the Ministerial Committee for Legislation only voted on three out of 38 bills on its agenda.
Among the bills that were frozen was the Greater Jerusalem bill, which would annex settlements near the capital, creating a larger metropolitan area. However, that freeze was planned before Bitan’s threats, at the request of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who asked Jerusalem to coordinate with Washington.
“We’re in touch with the Americans,” Netanyahu said. “The Americans asked us to help them understand the meaning of the bill. Just as we’ve cooperated with them until now, we should talk and cooperate with them. We are acting to promote and develop settlements, and not to promote other interests.”