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Netanyahu has been indicted. What next?

With Israel in political paralysis and a convoluted legal process to come, don't expect a trial or conviction any time soon
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (AFP)

Benjamin Netanyahu is finally officially facing criminal charges.

The first sitting prime minister to be indicted in Israel’s history, the country now finds itself in previously uncharted territory.

Middle East Eye takes a look at what comes next. (Spoiler: it won’t be fast)

Immunity request

Netanyahu was formally indicted on Thursday. Naturally, he rejected the charges of breach of trust, fraud and bribery.

Now the prime minister has 30 days to request that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, gives him immunity and saves him from the ignominy of a criminal trial.

Normally, the Knesset’s House Committee would convene to discuss Netanyahu’s request, were it to be submitted. But Israel has been in a state of political paralysis ever since the inconclusive election held in April.

Since those polls, another inconclusive election has been held and no House Committee formed, so no body exists with the authority to decide whether or not the prime minister should be let off the hook.

With no House Committee able to handle Netanyahu’s request, the attorney-general’s indictment can’t be filed and no legal proceedings can continue.

The parliament is within its rights to form a House Committee at any time, so potentially that process could begin in the coming days.

But with Israel hurtling towards a third election with no party able to form a government, that decision may be delayed until a ruling coalition is finally cobbled together. As things stand, an election in March looks likely.

Netanyahu can appeal for immunity on four grounds: first, that he already holds immunity as a member of the Knesset. Second, he could claim the indictment was filed for political, rather than legal, reasons. Third, the case is more suitable to be dealt with by a parliamentary forum. Fourth, that the criminal case would hinder the Knesset’s work.

If the decision goes the way of Netanayhu or Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, both are able to appeal the ruling to the High Court.

All of these proceedings will take months to get through. A High Court appeal alone could take between six months and two years.

Beginning the trial

Let’s assume that Netanyahu’s attempts to gain immunity fail – what next?

Following the House Committee’s decision and the prime minister’s inevitable appeal to the High Court, criminal proceedings would begin.

A court date could be yet further delayed by requests by legal teams for time to gather more evidence, and various matters could have to be discussed in preliminary hearings.

Netanyahu might well favour dragging out the process, and requests for time to collect evidence could stretch this pre-trial period to a year.

Taking former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s indictment as an example, the legal proceedings could be spread over several years.

Olmert’s corruption conviction saw him sentenced to 19 months in prison.

Netanyahu faces 10 years if convicted of bribery in Case 4,000, though it is unlikely that he would be handed the maximum sentence if the prime minister is eventually found guilty.

Bear in mind, Netanyahu is free to remain prime minister throughout this process - as long as he is able to form a government, that is.