Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment on corruption charges does not disqualify him from forming a government, Israel’s top court has said, paving the way for the veteran leader to remain in power.
In its ruling against opposition petitioners on Wednesday, the Supreme Court also found that Netanyahu’s unity government deal with his election rival Benny Gantz does not violate the law, dismissing arguments that it unlawfully shields him in a corruption trial.
The ruling removes a critical legal hurdle to the coalition government the right-wing Netanyahu and centrist Gantz plan to swear in next week, following three inconclusive elections in the past year.
It also moves the country closer to ending its political deadlock as it grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
In unanimous rulings, the 11-justice panel “found no legal basis to prevent Knesset member Netanyahu from forming the government”.
However, it added that its decision “should not be construed as diminishing the gravity of the charges faced by against public probity, nor the difficulty posed by the tenure of a prime minister accused of crimes.”
The court added that Netanyahu has the right to presumption of innocence.
Netanyahu, 70, was indicted in January on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing in all three cases. His trial is set to open on May 24.
Court petitioners, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, had argued that the pact shields Netanyahu from legal penalties – in part by giving the prime minister what they saw as undue sway over the outcome of his own corruption trial.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday night, Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White said they would hold a swearing-in ceremony for their government on May 13, “following the completion of the legislative process this evening”.
The alliance formed last month between the right-wing incumbent and his centrist challenger followed three inconclusive elections in less than a year.
Under the three-year deal, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz as his alternate, a new position in Israeli governance.
They will swap roles midway through the deal, with cabinet positions split between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White alliance, as well as their respective allies.
Legislators began voting on various bills on Wednesday to enact the coalition deal, with individual votes scheduled on each of the roughly 1,000 amendments proposed by the deal’s opponents. A definitive outcome is not expected until Thursday.
The coalition appears to have the 61 votes needed in the 120-seat parliament for approval.