Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will relinquish the four ministerial portfolios he currently holds in the wake of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict him in three corruption cases, according to a report Saturday.
The Haaretz newspaper said the action would be taken withing the next few days.
As of today, Netanyahu holds the agriculture, health, social affairs and diaspora affairs portfolios (deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party is the de facto head of that ministry). But according to legal precedent, a minister cannot continue to serve under indictment.
On Friday, the Blue and White called on Mandelblit to order Netanyahu to immediately give up the four ministerial posts.
Though the law technically allows a prime minister to remain in power so long as a final court ruling convicting him has not been given, it has never actually been tested before — as Netanyahu is the first leader in Israel’s history to face criminal charges while in office — and the courts will likely be compelled to debate the issue.
At least two groups were preparing to file petitions against Netanyahu’s continued rule Friday. Both the Labor party and the Movement for Quality Government said they would appeal to the High Court of Justice to force the prime minister to step down, with further petitions expected.
Netanyahu, in an emotional and defiant address Thursday, accused prosecutors and justice officials of a “tainted process,” and vowed to “continue to lead Israel… in accordance with the law,” shortly after Mandelblit announced he would charge the premier with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases against him.
The announcement did not include the official filing of an indictment, as the Knesset must first decide on lifting Netanyahu’s procedural immunity, a process that — due to the current political gridlock and the lack of a functioning government — could drag on for months.
The attorney general is reportedly also set to rule on whether Netanyahu can legally be tasked with forming a government due to the announcement of criminal charges against him- with one report claiming Mandelblit sees “significant legal difficulties” in such an eventuality.
After September’s elections, and failed efforts by Netanyahu and rival Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to muster a majority, the Knesset now has until December 11 to find a prime ministerial candidate who enjoys the support of 61 MKs. With kingmaker the Yisrael Beytenu party saying it will not support a narrow government of any kind, and the indictment announcement seemingly killing off any chance of Blue and White agreeing to share power with Netanyahu, a new national election — the third in less than a year — appears all but inevitable.
Gantz on Saturday said Netanyahu must step aside due to the pending charges and called on other Likud leaders to join him in a unity government to prevent a “pointless” new election.
And in the greatest challenge to Netanyahu yet by a figure inside his party, MK Gideon Sa’ar on Saturday castigated Netanyahu for describing the charges against him as “an attempted coup,” demanded an immediate leadership contest in their ruling Likud party, and claimed he could “easily form a government.”