A few axioms that have taken root in Israel of late: 1. The High Court of Justice is weak and under threat. 2. Its weakness makes it afraid to disqualify Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as prime minister despite his indictments. 3. The coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz seriously harms our democratic system of government. 4. The deal gives Netanyahu control over the legal system. 5. If the High Court intervenes in any of its provisions, there will be a fourth election.
The following is a more accurate description of events.
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• The High Court is indeed threatened by senior Likud figures, and this is nauseating. But the past two days of hearings only proved how strong it is. Thirty or 40 years ago, the justices would never have considered drafting provisions in a political agreement not intended to be enacted in law. Viewers watched the justices delving into the nuances of the agreement between the two parties. It would be hard to overstate just how extraordinary this is. The court is not supposed to interfere in political agreements. There have been only a few precedents, involving insane provisions like demanding collateral payments to back coalition obligations.
• The High Court presumably will not disqualify Netanyahu, but not because it’s weak. The legal basis for disqualification simply doesn’t exist, especially when he has the support of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members and when the law says explicitly that a prime minister can serve under indictment. The minutes of the Knesset meetings that preceded the passage of this law make it clear that the legislators were well aware of this possibility.
• The coalition agreement contains myriad repulsive provisions, but it isn’t “the end of democracy” and doesn’t turn us into Turkey, or even Hungary. It is definitely repulsive to amend Basic Laws like this, in a hasty, destructive manner.
There’s nothing terrible about giving politicians – in the future as well – the option of forming a rotation government. But it’s an atrocity that they’ve decided not to make any senior appointments during a six-month emergency period, following 18 months in which there were no such appointments due to repeated elections.
This provision, which stems from the infinite paranoia of Netanyahu and his family, apparently won’t be honored in any case. If it is honored, it will undoubtedly weaken the status of the police commissioner and the state prosecutor. But it’s not the end of democracy.
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• Netanyahu isn’t gaining any control over the legal system – and especially not when his situation after the agreement is worse than his situation before it with regard to appointing the state prosecutor and the police commissioner. The Judicial Appointments Committee will operate in exactly the same format that it always has, chaired by a minister from Kahol Lavan, with no restrictions on its activities.
Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Yamina party, wrote Sunday that the committee will appoint hundreds of leftist judges. It’s hard to imagine a dumber statement. The committee will continue making appointments just as it always has, for better or worse.
Netanyahu will be barred from involvement in the legal system by the conflict of interest agreement he will sign. Will he manage to circumvent it? Former Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber continued acting as Netanyahu’s agent in dealings with the Bezeq telecommunications company even after Netanyahu was barred from doing so, but he also told police investigators that during this period, he felt that he had more room to maneuver.
• Senior Likud officials, and for some reason parts of the media as well, are echoing the false claim that if the High Court intervenes, new elections will be called. That doesn’t appear in the agreement.
Perhaps the court won’t let Netanyahu serve as deputy prime minister in 18 months’ time because of the Dery-Pinhas precedent, according to which a cabinet minister who has been indicted must resign. For Netanyahu and his family, this would indeed be a big deal. There’s a chance that, for the first time, they would actually have to pay their own bills. But would Netanyahu dare force all of us into a fourth election at the height of a combined health and economic crisis?
The betrayal felt by people who voted for Gantz and Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz are understandable. Thanks to their votes, Netanyahu will remain in power even during his criminal trial.
Absurdly, however, these justified feelings are being translated into apocalyptic forecasts about the coalition agreement, though the vast majority of its provisions are meant to protect Gantz. Netanyahu would cheerfully abandon most of the agreement tomorrow morning.