TEL AVIV – The High Court of Justice unanimously rejected petitions about whether to allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government despite his indictment in three corruption cases, allowing him to go ahead with a controversial rotational unity coalition deal signed with Blue and White chief Benny Gantz.
The Knesset is set to green-light the Likud and Blue and White parties’ coalition deal on Thursday, and the new government will be sworn in on May 13, ending 16-months of political deadlock.
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.
The hearing also covered whether certain aspects of the deal struck between the are constitutional.
Despite “grave charges pending” in the bribery case facing Netanyahu, and “significant challenges” within the terms of the deal itself, the maximum 11-judge panel ruled that there is no legal reason to block Netanyahu from the task of forming a government.
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.
The judges ruled Netanyahu could not be disqualified from forming a government outright since the law only stipulates disqualification applies to a convicted prime minister who has exhausted all his appeals.
Ultimately, the Knesset has the legal authority to appoint a prime minister, they ruled, adding that the court, as an external body, had no business in intervening with the political process.
At one stage during the hearing, 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?”
Hayut wrote that Netanyahu is still innocent until proven otherwise.
“We did not find any legal reason to prevent MK Netanyahu from forming a government,” Hayut wrote. “The legal conclusion we reached does not diminish the gravity of the pending charges against MK Netanyahu for violations of moral integrity, or the difficulties derived from a prime minister serving when charged with criminal activity,” she added.
Netanyahu allies praised the outcome.
“The judge did well to not intervene,” said Culture Minister Miri Regev from the ruling Likud party. “The people are sovereign in Israel, and they have spoken.”
Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, who fought to limit the court’s power while serving as justice minister, said that petitions were political in nature and not legal, “and it’s good that the court refrained from interfering.”
“The prime minister being tasked with forming a government is the height of a political process that fulfills the people’s will,” she said.