Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he will ask the Knesset, Israel's parliament, for immunity from his pending corruption charges.

Why it matters: The request by Netanyahu will likely delay any trial until after the country's elections in March — its third attempt to elect a stable majority government in a year. It essentially turns the March vote into a referendum on Netanyahu's political and legal future.

  • This is the first time Netanyahu had admitted that he wants to get parliamentary immunity to prevent his trial from starting.
  • During the April 2019 election campaign, he denied on camera that he would try to promote any step to dodge a trial.
  • A majority of Israelis oppose granting Netanyahu immunity from the charges.

What he's saying: In a live primetime televised statement, Netanyahu said that the immunity would only be temporary and end once he finishes serving as a member of Knesset.

  • He added that his comments on immunity before the April elections do not contradict his current request.
  • He once again claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt by the police, the state prosecutors and the bureaucracy — and previously called the charges an "attempted coup."

The other side: Netanyahu's political rival Benny Gantz told the press that the prime minister's immunity request endangers the principle that all are equal before the law and harms Israeli democracy.

  • Gantz said Netanyahu was afraid to go to trial because he knows he is guilty, adding, "The choice in the upcoming elections is between an immunity government and a unity government — the kingdom of Netanyahu or the state of Israel."

The backdrop: Netanyahu was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

  • The biggest case concerns his and his wife's relationship with Israel's leading telecommunications tycoon.
  • According to a police statement, Netanyahu, who at the time was also the telecom minister, allegedly gave Shaul Elovitz regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In return, Netanyahu and his wife were allegedly allowed to demand positive coverage from one of Israel's major news websites, owned by Elovitz.
  • The prime minister alleged during his televised address today that is he being targeted in an rigged conspiracy. He has previously called the charges an "attempted coup" and a witch hunt.

What's next: Netanyahu immunity request starts a separate process inside the Knesset to vote on it in a special committee. Because the Knesset dissolved itself several weeks ago, there will have to be a special vote on forming such a committee.

  • The speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Adelstein, is from Netanyahu's Likud party and can prevent the formation of the committee — a step which would further complicate the situation and could lead to a showdown in the Supreme Court.
  • If the committee is formed before the March elections, Netanyahu will be in a very tough spot because he will not be able to win an immunity vote in the current Knesset. Former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman announced today that his party, Israel Beitenu, will vote against giving Netanyahu immunity, making it clear that there is a majority for denying Netanyahu’s request.
  • Netanyahu is betting that the committee will not be formed before the March elections, allowing him to obtain a 61-member majority in the next Knesset that would vote in favor of his request.

Go deeper: International Criminal Court moves closer to investigation of Israel

Go deeper

Updated 37 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 30,199,007 — Total deaths: 946,490— Total recoveries: 20,544, 967Map
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 6,675,593 — Total deaths: 197,644 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 90,710,730Map
  3. Politics: Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden, accusing Trump of costing lives in his coronavirus response.
  4. Health: Pew: 49% of Americans wouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine if available today Pandemic may cause cancer uptick The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine — COVID-19 racial disparities extend to health coverage losses.
  5. Business: Retail sales return to pre-coronavirus trend.
Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.