Netanyahu Must Honor Conflict-of-interest Deal, Israel's Attorney General Tells Court

Avichai Mendelblit argues the agreement, meant to guarantee that the prime minister does not use his power to affect proceedings against him, must be binding

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference, March 2020.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference, March 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit asked the High Court of Justice Tuesday to require Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the conflict of interest statement presented by the attorney general. Netanyahu is arguing that Mendelblit does not have the authority to impose such restrictions on him.

The purpose of the agreement is to guarantee that Netanyahu, who is being tried for fraud, bribery and breach of trust, does not use his power and influence as prime minister to influence the legal proceedings.

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Mendelblit’s guidelines would bar Netanyahu from making decisions pertaining to appointments in the law enforcement system and to the judiciary establishment or dealing with matters related to witnesses or to other defendants in his cases or with legislation that may have a bearing on the cases. Netanyahu has denied all of the charges against him.

Mendelblit has advised the High Court of Justice that he believes the terms of the agreement must be binding on the prime minister and that Netanyahu’s refusal to accept them comes in spite of his lawyers’ representations to the High Court that he in fact has accepted them.

The matter is before the court in the wake of petitions challenging the situation in which the prime minister continues to exercise his authority in the matters covered by the conflict of interest agreement despite his trial.

In response to the prime minister’s argument according to which the attorney general does not have the authority to impose such restrictions, Mendelblit wrote that the High Court of Justice has ruled that the attorney general has the authority to interpret the law for the executive branch of government and that this interpretation is binding on the executive branch, which the prime minister heads.

On Thursday, Netanyahu informed the court that he objects to a large portion of the restrictions, including a ban on dealing with the status of the attorney general and a ban on involvement in the appointment of justices to the Supreme Court.

The court now must decide whether to rule on the case in light of Netanyahu’s opposition to the guidelines, or to accept that Attorney General Mendelblit’s guidelines make any further consideration of the petitions unnecessary.

One of the petitioners, the Movement for Quality Government, said in a written response statement: “Several months ago, the prime minister’s lawyers stood [in court] and committed to the High Court of Justice that the prime minister would sign a conflict of interest agreement. It appears that a person who has become used to evading his commitments in the political field on a routine basis is now also trying to do so in the legal field.”

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