The Israeli PM was in the United States ahead of the release of the “Israeli-Palestinian peace plan” presented Tuesday by U.S. President Donald Trump, when Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit filed the charges in a court in Jerusalem.
The Knesset was expected to discuss Tuesday the formation of a committee to debate the prime minister's request for immunity from prosecution. Lacking sufficient support in parliament, the PM’s bid to obtain protection was likely to fail.
The Jewish state’s longest-serving premier wrote in a Facebook post that debate in parliament over his request would have been a “circus” and that he did not want to take part in this “dirty game.”
"I informed the Knesset speaker that I am withdrawing my immunity request," Netanyahu said.
As a trial is looming, the timeline is still unclear as the proceedings could take months or even years. Netanyahu has no legal obligation to resign.
Apart from his legal situation, the premier is also fighting for his political future in the upcoming March 2 election, the country’s third vote in less than a year after he failed to form a government in both April and September.
The leader's main political adversary, former military chief Benny Gantz, who was also present in Washington to discuss the details of the “peace plan” with Trump, had used his rival's legal troubles as the principal arguments of his campaigns in last year’s elections.
After Netanyahu pulled his immunity request Gantz stated that "Netanyahu is going to trial - we must go forward."
“The citizens of Israel have a clear choice: a prime minister who works for them or a prime minister busy with himself. No one can manage the country and in parallel manage three serious criminal cases,” he added in a tweet.
The charges marked the first time a sitting prime minister is criminally indicted. Following a long-running investigation, the cases including bribery, breach of trust and fraud were announced last November by Mandelblit.
Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting US$264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons and of allegedly dispensing favors in return for favorable stories about him in Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, and the Walla website.
Case 4000, the most serious of the three, alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors worth about 1.8 billion shekels (about US$500 million) to Israel's leading telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel.
In return, Mandelblit had said, Netanyahu and his wife often received positive coverage on the Walla site, which is owned by Bezeq's former chairman, Shaul Elovitch.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a political witch hunt.