Likud, Blue and White agree to revise coalition deal after High Court criticism

Likud, Blue and White agree to revise coalition deal after High Court criticism

Parties to shorten proposed 6-month freeze on senior appointments to 100 days, won’t prevent passage of non-virus laws; say new government not dependent on expanded ‘Norwegian Law’

A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)
A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

The Likud and Blue and White parties on Tuesday agreed to revise a number of clauses in their agreement to form a new government, after the High Court of Justice 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 next 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 “skipping 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 parties had been given until 2 p.m. to submit their response to the court.

The High Court on Sunday heard petitions against tasking Prime Minister Benjamin 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 one of their number form a government. The alternative is for the Knesset 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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