It’s hard to think of a clearer case of conflict of interest: Criminal defendant Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of a transition government, simply blocking the appointment of a justice minister. On Sunday the High Court of Justice said that if the government didn’t appoint a justice minister within 48 hours, it would discuss the matter itself. The High Court deadline expires Tuesday.
But the problem is that even if the High Court orders the government to appoint a justice minister, it can’t force Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to do so if there’s no agreement between them. Cunningly, Netanyahu committed to have the cabinet discuss the appointment of a justice minister within the coming two days, but didn’t commit to actually appoint one.
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Four months ago, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit stated that Netanyahu must refrain from dealing with appointments in the law enforcement system and to the Supreme Court. Mendelblit said this following Netanyahu’s explicit promise to submit to a conflict-of-interest agreement formulated by Mendelblit, a commitment without which the High Court wouldn’t have allowed a criminal defendant to form a government. But Netanyahu found an original way to avoid dealing with the law enforcement system and the Supreme Court: If he can’t decide who the justice minister will be, there simply won’t be a justice minister.
Mendelblit understands the risks in not having a justice minister, but apparently he doesn’t have the power or the courage to enforce the commitments he demanded from Netanyahu or to force him to appoint Gantz. Israel is trapped in the hands of an unrestrained criminal defendant and along with having no justice minister, it has no communications minister, higher education minister, water minister, science minister or social equality minister. As Mendelblit wrote, the country has never had ministerial posts go unfilled for so long.
What’s more, the country has no permanent state prosecutor, no budget, and a Knesset that’s incapacitated by the political stalemate. In other words, the state is paralyzed. “The governmental vacuum is extremely unreasonable,” said Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, during the hearing on the petitions filed demanding that ministers be appointed.
- Supreme court chief issues ultimatum to Netanyahu: Appoint justice minister in 48 hours
- Netanyahu offers Gantz first spot in rotation deal for premiership
- I can’t order Netanyahu to step down for time being, Attorney General tells High Court
The preferred solution is to bring back Gantz as justice minister, a post he had filled until April 1. This isn’t an ad-hoc solution; Gantz had assumed the position by agreement between Likud and Kahol Lavan, after Avi Nissenkorn resigned from the post earlier this year. Netanyahu’s refusal to appoint Gantz serves as additional proof that we do not have a prime minister who is accused of crimes, but an accused criminal defendant who has seized the job of prime minister. The High Court must order Netanyahu to fill the post immediately. Otherwise, Mendelblit must view Netanyahu’s refusal as conclusive proof of the need to declare him incapacitated.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.