High Court of Justice Green Lights Netanyahu-Gantz Coalition Deal

Knesset to vote on approving amendments to basic laws that pave the way for Netanyahu to form government

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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The High Court discuss the legality of Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz's coalition agreement, May 5, 2020
The High Court discuss the legality of Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz's coalition agreement, May 5, 2020Credit: Oren Ben Hakon
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday struck down a petition to prevent a criminally indicted lawmaker from forming a government, as well as petitions againt the coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan, clearing the way for the two to form a government.

In their ruling, the 11 justices said there was no legal cause to intervene in the coalition agreement between the two parties.

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"As the matter pertains to the terms of qualification as they are enshrined in law, a withstanding indicment against a member of Knesset does not prevent tasking him with forming a government, and as a result, to lead it," said the ruling.

The ruling added that despite the judicial difficulties that arise from the coalition deal between Likud and Kahol Lavan, "there was no room to intervene in any of its clauses, also in light of the amendments and clarifications made by the prime minister, Likud and Kahol Lavan."

High Court President Esther Hayut hears arguments against the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal, May 4, 2020.
High Court President Esther Hayut hears arguments against the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal, May 4, 2020.Credit: Oren Ben Hakun

The judges noted that the decision to ask the president to task a member of the Knesset with forming a government "involves broad political discretion. It is intended to translate voter law to support one of the Knesset members for the post of prime minister, through a majority of Knesset members who support the request. This is at the heart of the democratic process. External intervention in this process poses a serious violation of the principle of democracy that underlies our system of government."

The judges also said that the legal conclusion reached was "not to undermine the severity of the charges pending against Netanyahu … and the difficulty derived from the office of a prime minister accused of criminal activity. The role of the court is limited to examining the grounds for judicial review as prescribed by law. Therefore, when the court refuses to intervene in one appointment or the other, this is strictly regarding the law."

An extended panel comprising 11 of the court’s 15 justices heard petitions against the coalition agreement on Monday after hearing petitions against allowing a criminally indicted lawmaker to form a government on Sunday.

Netanyahu's trial in three corruption cases which include charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is set to begin on May 24.

While right-wing lawmakers welcomed the court’s decision, left-wing lawmakers expressed their disappointment with the ruling. Culture Minister Miri Regev from Netanyahu’s Likud posted on Twitter that “The justices did good by deciding not to intervene. In Israel the people are the ones that decide, and the people have spoken.”

Echoing Regev’s remarks, far-right Yamina lawmaker Ayelet Shaked wrote that “The claims mentioned in the petitions transform the political process into a legal one, and it’s a good thing that the court decided to not intervene.”

In contrast, Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz said that “The High Court should have ruled that a person under criminal indictments cannot be tasked with forming a government. We deserve a government that is not corrupt. The court decided otherwise, but unlike the right, we don’t think this qualifies as a reason to destroy the court with a D-9 bulldozer.”

Meretz lawmakers Tamar Zandberg said that she accepts the court’s decision, adding that “Even if it’s legal, it still stinks.” 

Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman tweeted that “The High Court ruling is a clear expression that the tyranny of the ‘majority’ is ruthless.”

Also expressing his dissatisfaction with the ruling, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich from Yamina said that “This is how quiet revolutions are carried out, while anesthetizing the public. This is judicial activism on steroids that is laying the foundations to annulling basic laws.”

Smotrich added that the court would intervene in the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee. In practice, Netanyahu sold out the committee to the left.”

The Knesset will be voting Thursday morning on amending some of the country’s basic laws which would allow the two parties to fulfill their coalition deal. Concurrently, Likud and Kahol Lavan released a joint statement saying Netanyahu and Gantz agreed on the formation of a government and its swearing-in on May 13, "after completing the necessary legislation on Wednesday night."

On Tuesday, Likud and Kahol Lavan informed the High Court that in response to the petitions they had shortened the period of a planned freeze in senior government appointments to 100 days after the next government is sworn in, rather than the six months mentioned in their agreement.

The parties also said they would give priority to legislation related to the coronavirus crisis for six months after the government is sworn in, but other legislation would not be prohibited.

In Monday’s session the justices said they objected to certain clauses in the agreement, noting that they had nothing to do with addressing the pandemic. The High Court is to hand down its decision on the petitions by Wednesday at midnight.

In his opinion to the High Court, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said there were no grounds for overturning the coalition agreement after it was amended. He said legal precedent only allows the court to intervene in extreme cases.

The parties also told the court that they were willing to pursue the deal whether or not legislation moved ahead on the so-called Norwegian Law. The proposed law would allow Kahol Lavan lawmakers who became ministers to resign from the Knesset and bring in other members of their faction, skipping over members of the Yesh Atid-Telem faction. Kahol Lavan ran on a joint slate with Yesh Atid and Telem in the March 2 election. The factions have since split up due to differences over joining a Netanyahu-led government. 

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