Netanyahu and Gantz's Parties Amend Coalition Deal After High Court Hearing

Likud and Kahol Lavan shorten freeze on top government appointments, remove ban on non-coronavirus related legislation

Chaim Levinson
Jonathan Lis
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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
Chaim Levinson
Jonathan Lis

Likud and Kahol Lavan informed the High Court of Justice on Tuesday in response to petitions against the coalition agreement that 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.

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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. 

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

An extended panel comprising 11 of the court’s 15 justices heard petitions against the coalition agreement on Monday. Justices criticized parts of the agreement, including the clause that called for freezing senior appointments for six months. “What’s the connection between the coronavirus and appointing a police commissioner?” High Court President Esther Hayut asked.

Likud’s attorney Michael Rabilio responded: “In a time of emergency it’s important to maintain agreements between the blocs. In the time of the coronavirus, in an emergency government, it’s important for there to be agreements between the blocs and to stay away from the appointment of this or that individual.”

Justice Uzi Fogelman said: “We’re after three elections. Because the transition government doesn’t make appointments, the whole range of appointments in the civil service is based on a mechanism that ensures professionalism and non-politicization. Everything is already in place and it’s precisely the essential appointments at all the senior levels and all kinds of public bodies that are being delayed. The very talk of not making appointments and establishing a committee to reinvent the wheel creates concern that we’re at the start of a long period of uncertainty with damage to the public interest in the most direct way.”

However, the bench also criticized the petitioners, saying that at this time there was no justification for disqualifying the coalition agreement since the legislation it would require had not yet been advanced. Justice Hayut said: “If it were agreed to pass a law by which democracy committed suicide, perhaps there would be a place to intervene before legislation.” 

Addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer, Justice Noam Sohlberg said that the court “apparently would not intervene at this stage” in matters of legislation that had not yet been passed.

Justice Menachem Mazuz said to one of the petitioners: “The agreement does not change basic laws, or anything – not a regulation, not an order, and certainly not regime change. It only constitutes a declaration of intent that should express itself in decisions to enact various processes.” Therefore, Mazuz said, the justices would use the “usual rules of oversight of the legislative and administrative processes. The rule is that Israeli courts or those almost everywhere in the world oversee legislation only from the judicial perspective. You come here based on a declaration of intent. Must we oversee a law that perhaps is intended to be legislated?”

Following the hearing, Netanyahu said that a court intervention in the agreement could increase the likelihood of a fourth election. “In a democracy, the people decide who will lead the people,” he said at a press conference. “I was elected by a majority. The party I head received more votes than any other party – a huge majority of the people want me to lead the government and there is a huge majority in the Knesset that wants this and that’s the way it should be. It is improper for any element, neither officials nor the courts, to intervene in this basic thing. The agreement between us and Kahol Lavan was carefully built, very carefully, very responsibly.

Undermining it could increase the likelihood that we’ll be dragged into a fourth election. I hope the High Court does not do this.”

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