Israel's High Court to Decide if Indicted Netanyahu Can Form Government Next Week

Session set for December 31 follows petition filed with court asking Mendelblit to publish legal opinion on the matter ■ Likud MK warns that barring PM would lead to passage of bill allowing Knesset to override the courts

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacts during the weekly cabinet meeting, at his office in Jerusalem, December 15, 2019.
Gali Tibbon/AP

The High Court has said it will deliberate on December 31 on whether an indicted prime minister can form a government, adding that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must publish a legal opinion on the matter by next Sunday.

The announcement Sunday followed a petition to the High Court of Justice asking Mendelblit to craft his opinion on the issue because of the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Israel currently faces its third general election within 11 months because of the parties' failure to form a government.

The court session will be held with a panel of three justices: Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Deputy Supreme Court President Hanan Melcer and Justice Uzi Vogelman.

Netanyahu responded by saying: "In a democracy, those who decide who will lead the people are the people, not anyone else. Otherwise it is simply not a democracy."

Miki Zohar, the Knesset whip for Netanyahu's Likud, warned that the party would respond forcefully if the court decided that an indicted politician could not be asked to form a government.

"If the High Court makes the scandalous decision to meddle in politics and forbid Netanyahu from forming a government, we will pass the override clause," Zohar said, referring to a bill that would let the Knesset overrule a decision by the court.

"If there is anything that improves the odds for a 61-seat right-wing bloc, this would be it," he added.

So far, the High Court has not drawn up an opinion on the matter, on the grounds that the issue is still theoretical. The attorney general has said that as long as the court does not find it appropriate to discuss the issue, there is no reason for an opinion by him.

"If the court decides to discuss this weighty constitutional issue, the attorney general will seek to submit his position before the date of the hearing," Mendelblit said in a statement. He will have to submit his opinion at least 48 hours before the High Court session is held.

The petition calling on Mendelblit to produce an opinion was filed last month by 67 people in academia as well as the security and culture worlds. Mendelblit said this was a "theoretical remedy not required for a judicial decision," adding that the court should not deal with future scenarios at all.

Last month, Mendelblit charged Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the three corruption affairs dubbed cases 4000, 2000 and 1000. The indictment came after a four-day hearing with Netanyahu's defense team, followed by weeks of intensive discussions at the attorney general's offices.