Don’t intervene and strike down coalition deal, AG urges High Court of Justice

Don’t intervene and strike down coalition deal, AG urges High Court of Justice

As Likud and Blue and White introduce revisions to unity government agreement, Avichai Mandelblit says justices should not disqualify it

Israeli attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, with president of Supreme Court Esther Hayut, at Bar Ilan University on March 4, 2020. (Flash90)
Israeli attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, with president of Supreme Court Esther Hayut, at Bar Ilan University on March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday that there is no reason to intervene or strike down the revised coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White.

“Intervention by the honorable court in coalition agreements should be reserved for exceptional and rare cases,” said Mandelblit.

The attorney general has also opined to the court that there is no legal impediment to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forming a government despite the criminal charges against him.

The High Court is weighing a series of petitions evaluating the legality of the coalition agreement and whether Netanyahu may lead the emerging coalition while under indictment.

The Likud and Blue and White parties earlier Tuesday agreed to revise a number of clauses in their agreement to form a new government, after the High Court signaled they could be struck down.

In their response to the court, the parties said they would shorten a proposed six-month freeze on senior appointments to 100 days and that their coalition deal would not prevent passage of legislation unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic during this period. They will instead add a sentence to their agreement clarifying that virus-related laws would be given preference.

The High Court justices had criticized the freeze, arguing the virus was unconnected to the appointment of top officials and questioning why other legislation could not be passed for six months.

The parties also said they would limit the emergency period that would start the term of the coalition government to six months rather allowing for it to be further extended.

The justices had said the inclusion of the emergency period itself was problematic, since there was no definition of its duration or of what exactly would cause it to end.

Concerning the proposed “Norwegian law,” the parties said they were still formulating the bill and that the swearing-in of a new government was not dependent on it first becoming law.

The proposed law would allow some of the eventually envisaged 52 ministers and deputy ministers of the new government to temporarily resign their Knesset posts to let new MKs into the parliament in their stead — but not according to their slate’s original order as current law dictates. This aims to allow Gantz to bring new members of his faction into parliament while skipping members of the Yesh Atid and Telem factions, which splintered from Blue and White over Gantz’s decision to ally himself with Netanyahu.

Judges panned that law, saying it violated the will of the voters who cast their ballots for the slate in the order it was seen on the day of elections.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (GPO)

Additionally, Likud and Blue and White said “the government will announce the basic principles of its policies for the entirety of its term in accordance with Basic Law: The Government.”

The High Court on Sunday heard petitions against tasking Netanyahu with forming a government due to his indictment on graft charges and, during a marathon nine-hour hearing on Monday, considered petitions against the Likud-Blue and White coalition deal, which stipulates profound changes to Israel’s constitutional order.

The hearings came with a deadline looming Thursday night for a majority of MKs to recommend a Knesset member to form a government. The alternative is for the parliament to automatically dissolve, triggering fresh elections, the fourth in a year and a half of political gridlock.

During the hearings, the justices appeared to dismiss both sides’ insistence that they hand down a swift ruling regarding the legitimacy of legislation anchoring power-sharing agreements between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Gantz and naming the latter “alternate prime minister” — a position specially tailored for the deal — as well as bills to nix the current cap of 19 on the number of ministers (the deal includes 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers). They argued that because the legislation in question has not yet been passed, and some of it has not even been submitted to the Knesset for a preliminary vote, they could not intervene.

Many other elements of the unity deal seemed set to be approved by the court.

From left to right: Justice Hanan Melcer, Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Neal Hendel at the High Court of Justice on May 4, 2020. (Screenshot)

Netanyahu said Monday night that the High Court should not interfere with his efforts to form a government and warned that if it did so it would go “against the will of the people” and increase the chances of a fourth election.

Netanyahu, in power since 2009, and ex-military chief Gantz faced off in three inconclusive elections in less than a year. With neither man able to form a viable governing coalition in Israel’s deeply divided 120-seat parliament, they agreed to a power-sharing deal last month, saying they aimed to avert a fourth vote opposed across the political spectrum.

But the deal faces eight petitions challenging its validity before the High Court. Five of the eight, submitted by anti-corruption watchdog groups and others, argue that members of Knesset indicted on corruption charges, such as Netanyahu, cannot be appointed prime minister.

Current law allows a prime minister to remain in power so long as he has not been convicted of criminal wrongdoing, with all avenues of appeal exhausted. However, the case of a prime minister under indictment being poised to establish a new government is seen as something of a legal blind spot.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and claimed the charges against him are an effort by political rivals, the media, and law enforcement to remove him from office.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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