The withdrawal of the immunity request means Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit can officially file indictments against Netanyahu, allowing the trial of a sitting prime minister to begin for the first time in the country’s history. The legal process could possibly take years.
The Knesset was due to start debating today whether to convene the committee tasked with weighing the immunity request. Lawmakers appeared certain to reject his bid, a factor likely to have influenced Netanyahu’s decision not to proceed.
“At this fateful hour for the people of Israel, while I am in the United States on a historic mission to shape the final borders of Israel and safeguard our security for generations to come, another show in the immunity-removal circus is set to begin,” the Prime Minister wrote on his Facebook page.
Renewing his strategy of seeking to delegitimize the corruption cases and the investigation process, Netanyahu added: “This is the continuation of a personal and obsessive hunt against me by the ‘Anyone But Bibi’ people. Instead of understanding the magnitude of the hour and rising above political considerations, they continue to deal in cheap politics that endangers a crucial moment in the history of the nation.
“I will not allow my political opponents to use this matter to interfere with the historical move I’m leading,” he said.
Netanyahu said that he had informed the Speaker of the Knesset of the withdrawal of his immunity request.
Rival Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White party emerged the largest in the Knesset after the last elections, said Netanyahu cannot lead the country and deal with his legal problems.
“Netanyahu goes to trial. We must proceed,” Gantz said on Twitter.
“The citizens of Israel have a clear choice — a Prime Minister that will work for them or a Prime Minister dealing with himself. No one can run a country and at the same time run three severe criminal cases on bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”
The charges against Netanyahu, which relate to three separate corruption cases, were unveiled in November.
Prosecutors say that in the most serious case, known as Case 4000, Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits worth more than 1 billion shekels (approximately $280 million) to his friend, millionaire Shaul Elovitch, who owned the Walla! News website as part of his control of the Bezeq telecommunications company.
Prosecutors say that in exchange Netanyahu, who also served at that time as Israel’s Minister of Communications, received favorable news coverage on Walla! as well as influence over the choice of stories and language used.
Meanwhile Israel has also been gripped by political deadlock, following elections in April and September, both of which failed to result in the formation of a new government.
Voters have a third chance to decide the fate of the country in March, though opinion polls suggest little change on the previous two results.
CNN’s Sheena McKenzie contributed to this report.