Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said that the High Court of Justice should not interfere with his efforts to form a government between his Likud party and Blue and White, and warned that if it did so it would increase the chances of a fourth election.
The High Court on Sunday heard petitions against the tasking of Netanyahu with forming a government, due to his indictment on graft charges, and 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.
In a press conference at his office in Jerusalem that was devoted almost entirely to the announcement of eased restrictions on movement in the battle against the coronavirus, Netanyahu said any intervention by the court would go “against the will of the people.”
“I was elected by a majority vote: Likud, headed by me, received more votes than any party in the history of the state. There is a huge majority of the people and in the Knesset who want the government we are going to form,” he said.
Netanyahu warned that if the court does choose to intervene, “it increases the chances of a fourth round of elections.”
“I hope the High Court won’t do this,” he said.
The prime minister appeared to express confidence that the justices would not strike down the coalition agreement, saying it had been “constructed meticulously.”
Netanyahu’s comments came hours after the High Court wrapped up a marathon nine-hour hearing on the coalition deal.
During the hearing, the justices indicated they could strike down some clauses of the agreement between the parties, including those that expand the so-called “Norwegian Law” and set a six-month period during which almost no legislation unrelated to the coronavirus could be advanced, and during which there would be no full-time appointments for senior roles.
The court invited Likud and Blue and White to consider changing clauses in the coalition deal relating to those matters, and come back with a response within 24 hours.
However, 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. 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 ratified by the court. At various point during the deliberations, the justices slammed representatives for the petitioners for using “irrelevant” arguments that were political or moral in nature, not legal.
Like the first day of hearings, Monday’s discussions, before an expanded panel of 11 justices, were broadcast live.
While Monday’s deliberations concerned the controversial aspects of the three-year coalition deal negotiated by Netanyahu and Gantz, Sunday’s seven-hour hearing discussed whether Netanyahu should even be allowed to lead a new coalition in light of his indictment in three corruption cases — with justices hinting that they were unpersuaded by the petitioners.
The court is set to issue a ruling on both matters later in the week.
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.