AG demurs on whether Netanyahu can form coalition while facing charges
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AG demurs on whether Netanyahu can form coalition while facing charges

Responding to petition, Avichai Mandelblit says he’ll only rule on question of premier’s legal ability to assemble a new coalition if High Court takes up matter

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing state attorney Shai Nitzan at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing state attorney Shai Nitzan at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday declined to rule on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a new government after being charged in a series of graft cases, informing the High Court of Justice he would only issue a legal opinion if it hears the matter.

Mandelblit was responding to petitions filed with the High Court on whether a Knesset member facing criminal charges can be tasked with assembling a government. He announced last month he was charging with Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

The court had asked for the attorney general’s legal opinion on the matter before deciding whether to adjudicate the matter.

The attorney general highlighted the complexity of the matter at hand and noted that “sensitivity is required since we are in a period of elections. There is no need for an opinion on the issue [at this time].”

Only when the court considers the question “will there be a place for an opinion also from the attorney general on the matter within the framework of the judicial proceeding,” he wrote.

Illustrative: The High Court of Justice in session. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Any ruling on whether Netanyahu can form a government while facing charges could dramatically shake up the campaign for elections on March 2, the third to be held in less than a year after the first two failed to produce a ruling coalition.

Netanyahu is not required to resign over the looming indictments, after the High Court threw out petitions demanding his resignation. He said earlier this month he would give up the rest of his portfolios besides the one making him prime minister by the end of the year.

While the law appears to indicate a prime minister can continue to serve while under indictment, ministers must resign their posts once charges are filed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, in Jerusalem on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mandelblit earlier ruled that Netanyahu does not have to resign as prime minister, as he currently heads a caretaker government so the action would have “no practical relevance.” But he said the premier, who became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to face criminal charges, did have to give up his other posts.

Netanyahu has dismissed the charges against him and vowed to stay on to fight them. He is also widely believed to be planning on seeking parliamentary immunity if he is able to form a coalition, a feat that has eluded him in two rounds at the polls.

Mandelblit must wait for Netanyahu to announce if he will seek immunity from the Knesset before he can formally file charges.

Because the Knesset has disbanded, the process could end up being drawn out for months.

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