High Court hears petitions against Netanyahu, unity government

The High Court of Justice will rule on Benjamin Netanyahu’s fitness to be prime minister and the legality of the unity government. 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

On Sunday morning, Israel’s High Court of Justice began hearing several petitions against the formation of the national unity government agreement signed by the Likud and Blue and White parties two weeks ago.

An expanded panel of 11 justices led by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut will deal with two main issues: If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be the head of state while under indictment, and whether the coalition agreement contains clauses that are legally problematic.

The court had been petitioned earlier on the viability of Netanyahu’s candidacy, immediately after he was indicted in November and before the last election round in March.

At those times, the court declined to hear the petitions, saying that it was premature and it would not deal with theoretical issues. Now that a coalition is about to be formed, the court agreed to weigh in.

The law allows an indicted prime minister to stay in office until he has been convicted and exhausted all appeals against the judgment.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit submitted his opinion to the court on Thursday, arguing that although the crimes Netanyahu is charged with involve moral turpitude, it is not enough of a reason to overturn the will of the majority of the Knesset.

He wrote that Netanyahu should therefore be allowed to keep his seat, with safeguards that will not allow him to have a voice in issues that could constitute a conflict of interest, such as appointments to judiciary positions in the new government.

The petitioners argue that the law only applies to a sitting prime minister, not one who is a caretaker of a transition government.

The second issue before the court is the changes to Basic Laws, which are quasi-constitutional in nature. The Knesset is revising those Basic Laws to limit certain legislation and to protect the rotational agreement agreed to by Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

Mandelblit wrote that he has problems with these and other clauses, but that the importance of establishing an emergency government takes precedence. He left open the possibility of future court intervention if and when laws are passed that the judiciary feels are improper.

The court will deliberate on the issue over two days in hearings that will be broadcast live on television. It is expected that the court will rule on the matters shortly afterward, as the deadline for forming a new government is May 7.

The two major parties have agreed that if the High Court rules against the unity agreement, an unprecedented fourth election will be called for in August.