Israel High Court hears offers to prevent Netanyahu from forming new government

JERUSALEM: Israel Sunday's superior court began hearing arguments to ban the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of forming a new government while facing a criminal trial in corruption charges.

The Supreme Court will also hear petitions challenging a coalition deal with his rival-turned-partner, who is currently speaker of the Knesset, Israel 's parliament.

Either case carries the danger of forcing another election, after three polls in less than a year failed to produce a government and left the country in a political impasse.

Today we will hear arguments on the issue of conferring the duty to form a government on a Knesset member against whom an indictment has been brought, court president Esther Hayut said as the process began.

Tomorrow there will be a hearing on the second issue, related to the coalition agreement, she said, sitting in front of a panel of 11 judges, all wearing masks in line with Covid-19's precautions.

The hearing was broadcast live on the court's website.

Neither Netanyahu, the right-wing prime minister in power since 2009, nor former centrist warlord Gantz, after the March elections, was able to form a viable government coalition in the deeply divided 120-seat Knesset.

They agreed to a power-sharing deal last month, with the aim of avoiding a fourth poll that runs against the entire political spectrum.

Under the three-year coalition deal, the government's first six months will be dedicated primarily to combatting the novel that has infected more than 16,000 Israel is and ravaged the economy.

But eight separate petitions to the Supreme Court seek to declare the deal illegal, including one from Gantz's former ally, opposition chief Yesh Atid.

Lapid broke up with Gantz last month when the former military commander was elected president of parliament and decided to seek a deal with Netanyahu.

As a long list of lawyers representing the eight petitioners and the dozens of respondents filed in front of the judges on Sunday, Israel is in protective masks protested near the courtroom and outside Netanyahu's official Jerusalem home.

Protester Tmira Stareck said her inadequacy for another term was so evident that there should be no need for a court hearing.

The very fact that we even need to discuss the obvious problem: A man criminally accused of forming a government is already a failure, it is already abnormal, he told AFP in Hebrew.

Would you hire someone criminally charged? No. You wouldn't even let him be the school custodian.

Sunday's court session deals with the charges brought against Netanyahu in January.

The veteran prime minister has been accused of accepting inappropriate gifts and illegally exchanging favors in exchange for favorable media coverage. He denies wrongdoing and his trial will begin on May 24.

Israel i law bars an indicted person from serving as an ordinary cabinet minister, but does not compel a criminally-charged prime minister to leave office.

The complication regarding Netanyahu is that he is not currently an ordinary prime minister. He has been serving as the caretaker head of a transitional government through Israel 's period of political deadlock.

According to some interpretations of Israel i law, that makes Netanyahu merely a candidate to become prime minister.

Interviewed on public radio on Saturday, energy minister and Netanyahu ally Yuval Steinitz said that if the court rules Netanyahu cannot serve, it would amount to an unprecedented attack on Israel i democracy.

The Gantz-Netanyahu agreement, Steinitz said, is a necessity, the result of three election campaigns and a desire among Israel is to avoid a fourth election.

The main argument against the coalition deal refers to specific provisions that opponents say violate the law.

The agreement sees Netanyahu serving as prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz as his alternate, a new title in Israel i governance.

They will swap roles midway through the deal before taking voters to the polls in 36 months.

But Israel i law traditionally endows governments with four-year mandates, an issue pounced on by the deal's opponents.

There is also a provision that freezes certain public appointments during the government's initial six-month pandemic emergency phase, which critics also say is illegal.

An opinion issued to the Supreme Court this week by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted Netanyahu, said that while certain arrangements in the coalition agreement pose great difficulties ... there is currently no reason to disqualify him.

He advised that problematic provisions be reviewed at the implementation stage.

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