What’s next? Questions and answers about Netanyahu’s upcoming trial
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What’s next? Questions and answers about Netanyahu’s upcoming trial

Who will be the judges? How long will the court proceedings take? Will the premier be forced to resign? A guide to Israel’s first criminal case against a sitting prime minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to deliver a statement regarding his intention to file a request to the Knesset for immunity from prosecution, in Jerusalem on January 1, 2020. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to deliver a statement regarding his intention to file a request to the Knesset for immunity from prosecution, in Jerusalem on January 1, 2020. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally indicted Tuesday in three corruption cases, the first time a sitting Israeli premier has become a defendant in a criminal trial.

Netanyahu is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the Bezeq case, known as Case 4000, and of fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and blames a “witch hunt” by police, prosecutors, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the judiciary.

Now that the trial is a certainty, what happens next?

Where will the trial be held?

The indictment was filed Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court, where the law stipulates that a prime minister must be tried by a panel of three judges.

The identity of the three judges will be determined by the court’s president, Justice Aharon Farkash.

Illustrative: The Jerusalem District Court on September 20, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

How long will the trial take?

That depends on many variables. It isn’t yet clear even when the trial will officially begin, since it could start in the next few weeks but that could be delayed until after the March 2 Knesset elections.

The trial will open with a formal reading of the indictment in court, in a hearing Netanyahu is likely to have to attend.

The full investigation material will then be handed to the prime minister’s lawyers — Yossi Ashkenazi and Amit Hadad, although that team could very well change — who will have to go over a huge quantity of documents, protocols and recordings before the evidence will start being discussed. The defense is also expected to file various preliminary requests.

That is likely to delay the beginning of the discussion of the evidence in the case until after the courts go on hiatus in July — meaning until at least September, and possibly longer.

The trial is likely to take at least three years in total, according to estimations. That estimate does not include almost certain subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court.

But at any time, prosecutors and the defense team could reach a plea deal that could significantly shorten the trial. It is not clear how willing Netanyahu will be to sign such a deal — he insists he is innocent — since such a plea deal is highly likely to require him to step down from the premiership and from the political arena.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys Yossi Ashkenazi, right, and Amit Hadad after leaving the second day of hearings in Netanyahu’s corruption probes, at the Justice Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem, October 3, 2019. (Channel 12 screen capture)

Does Netanyahu have to step down?

Israeli law does not require a sitting prime minister to resign until convicted with all appeals exhausted.

However, the High Court of Justice in 1993 ruled that all other government ministers must resign if indicted — a ruling respected ever since, including by Netanyahu, who has relinquished all the other ministerial posts he held.

The same court is sure to hear petitions urging it to reach the same conclusion in the case of a prime minister.

Can Netanyahu be tasked with forming a government?

The High Court is likely to also rule on whether the president can task a defendant in a criminal case with forming a government, having previously refused to deal with the question, calling it theoretical.

It will likely no longer be theoretical after the election, and there is definitely a possibility that Netanyahu will be blocked by the court from forming a coalition after the vote.

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