Israel’s High Court was this week hearing arguments that Benjamin Netanyahu cannot remain as prime minister while under indictment for corruption, and that his coalition deal is illegal.
In a rare example of a televised hearing being broadcast live, owing to the seriousness and potential implications, the expanded panel of 11 judges began reviewing three petitions.
Alongside the question of whether any Israeli leader can continue while indicted, they are also considering whether the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White party of opposition leader Benny Gantz is unconstitutional.
Netanyahu’s corruption trial is due to begin later this month, and among the more contentious issues in the coalition agreement is a clause prohibiting any key law enforcement appointments to be made while he faces trial.
Analysts say this poses a conflict of interest, while pointing out that the deal also gives Netanyahu a veto over the appointment of the next attorney general and state prosecutor. State prosecutors have said this is “unacceptable”.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have argued that more than one million Israelis chose Likud during the country’s last election in March, in the knowledge that Netanyahu would be prime minister, and accused the judges of wanting “to replace voters”.
On Monday Supreme Court President Esther Hayut probed why the pandemic meant no appointments would be made during the first six months, asking: “What’s the connection between the coronavirus and appointing a police commissioner?”
Israelis voting for both Labor as well as Gantz’s Blue and White have felt betrayed after both signed up to work with Netanyahu despite campaigning to oust him, and the mood in the country has darkened, with two separate demonstrations held in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Under the terms of the controversial deal, Netanyahu will serve the first 18 months as prime minister, before Gantz takes over for the next 18, but to facilitate this arrangement changes need to be made to Israel’s Basic Laws, akin to its constitution.
Netanyahu’s supporters accused judges of bias against him, but most commentators say they are unlikely to rule in the petitioners’ favour. Nevertheless politicians still need to amend Israel’s Basic Laws by Thursday in order to keep the coalition alive.