TEL AVIV – Israel’s High Court of Justice on Sunday held the first hearing, which was broadcast live on television, about whether to allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government despite his indictment in three corruption cases.
The hearing, which is set to continue on Monday and Tuesday, also covered whether certain aspects of the rotational unity government deal struck between the Likud and Blue and White parties are constitutional.
The deal’s validity was challenged in eight separate petitions, with the main argument being members of Knesset indicted on corruption charges cannot serve as prime minister.
According to the terms of the deal, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for a year and a half after which Blue and White head Benny Gantz will replace him.
According to Anar Herman, who represented Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the hearing, Netanyahu “in the current situation is not disqualified from serving as prime minister.”
An attorney for Netanyahu’s Likud party averred that the entire process of selecting a prime minister “is a constitutional process, not an administrative one.
“It’s inappropriate for the court to intervene in the constitutional judgment of the people and the members of Knesset,” the attorney said in remarks translated by The Times of Israel.
Michael Ravilo, representing Netanyahu, said it would have been preferable for the court to have thrown out the petitions immediately rather than involving itself “in these political issues.”
Attorney Avital Sompolinsky, representing the Knesset’s legal department, said the “decision is so political and complex, touching on the relationship between the Knesset and the government,” and the court should “adopt the view that it can enter this sensitive and deeply politicized arena only in the most extreme cases.”
Indeed, it seemed that as the day’s hearing drew to a close the 11-panel bench moved towards not barring Netanyahu from setting up a government.
At one stage, Chief Justice Esther Hayut seemed to lose her temper as she demanded the petitioners provide a basis for their demand.
“Show us something! A law! A verdict! From this country’s [history]! From [somewhere else] in the world! Something!,” Hayut said according to the Times of Israel. “After all, [you’re asking us to set] a global precedent! You want us to rule without a basis simply according to your personal opinion?”
Suzie Navot, a constitutional law expert, told Channel 12 the sense was the justices were saying it was up to the Knesset, and not the High Court, to legislate.
She said it would be difficult to imagine a scenario whereby the court would determine that contravening the public’s faith in governing authorities was justified.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said if the court rules Netanyahu cannot serve, it would amount to “an unprecedented attack on Israeli democracy.”
The coalition deal is “a necessity, the result of three election campaigns and a desire among Israelis to avoid a fourth election,” he said.