Israel’s Supreme Court has started the second day of a hearing to determine if a coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and main rival Benny Gantz is valid as the former faces corruption charges.
On Sunday, the court heard “arguments on the question of bestowing the duty of forming a government on a Knesset member against whom an indictment has been filed”, according to Chief Justice Esther Hayut.
“[On Monday] there will be a hearing on the second issue, regarding the coalition agreement,” she said, sitting at the head of a panel of 11 judges.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is expected to be announced by Thursday.
A ruling against Netanyahu would likely trigger a snap election, the fourth since April 2019, as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
Last month, after three elections and failure to form a government, Netanyahu and Gantz signed an agreement to form a unity government under which they would take turns leading Israel.
The pact has support from a majority in parliament. However, several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, have petitioned Israel’s highest court to nullify the deal and bar Netanyahu from leading the government, citing the criminal proceedings against him.
The agreement sees Netanyahu serving as prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz as his “alternate”, a new title in Israeli governance.
They will swap roles midway through the deal before likely taking voters back to the polls in 36 months.
Israeli law traditionally endows governments with four-year mandates, an issue taken up by the deal’s opponents.
Neither Netanyahu, the right-wing premier in power since 2009, nor former military chief Gantz, was able after a March election to form a viable governing coalition in the deeply divided 120-seat Knesset.
In January, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing in all three cases against him and says he is a victim of a political witch-hunt.
Netanyahu’s trial is due to start on May 24.
Israeli law says a prime minister under indictment is not obligated to step down until a final conviction.
However, legal some experts say there are precedents suggesting elected officials indicted with charges that carry moral turpitude should resign.