Court Ruling Netanyahu Can Form Government Final – for Now

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High Court Justice Hanan Melcer at a hearing Tuesday on whether a prime minister facing criminal indictment can be tapped to form a coalition. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s High Court said on Thursday it will not intervene in the question of whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ would be eligible to form a government while under indictment, although it left the matter open for a ruling at a later time.

During the hearing, the panel of three justices indicated that a ruling now would be premature, and will only become relevant if, after the March 2 election, PM Netanyahu wins another chance to put together a government. Thursday’s decision solidified a preliminary one on Tuesday.

During the hearing, lawyers for the petitioners argued that the High Court had set a clear precedent when it forced a minister to resign in a bribery indictment 20 years ago. A prime minister should be treated no differently, they said.

The Court pressed the petitioners’ lawyer, Daphna Holech-Lechner, for a precedent where they had ruled in an electoral matter before the election took place, which she could not produce.

Court President Esther Hayut noted that in a case when it removed three mayors who were indicted for corruption, they were not disqualified from running for re-election, since none had actually yet been convicted of a crime.

The Court did not accept Holech-Lechner’s argument that “irreversible damage” will be done to the will of the voters if some vote for Netanyahu now, thinking he is eligible to form a government, only to find out post-election that he is not eligible.

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz tried to take it in stride, saying he respects “the correct decision of the High Court” not to rule out Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu forming a government after the next election.

“We will take Netanyahu to the court of public opinion at the polls, and win,” he tweeted.

The Likud seemed satisfied with the decision. “The High Court acted correctly,” the party said. “In a democracy, only the people decide who will lead the people, and no one else.”

In response, New Right co-chairwoman Ayelet Shaked stressed that the decision was not really final.

“It’s good that the petition was rejected but too bad it wasn’t rejected out of hand. It is a pity that the clues scattered throughout the hearing and decision indicate that the court is considering intervening in the future,” she was quoted by Arutz Sheva as saying.

“The petition should not have been dismissed because it is theoretical and premature. The public is the one who decides whether to get rid of a Prime Minister or not. It is important to make it clear: public sentencing, expressed in the election results , is the strongest and most correct answer to the question of public trust. The public chooses who to believe. No body, not even the High Court judges, can choose who it should believe in, ” Shaked asserted.

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