The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Israeli lawmakers move quickly on new government after court endorses Netanyahu’s coalition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's indictment on corruption charges does not disqualify him from forming a government, the High Court said on May 7. (Video: Reuters)

JERUSALEM — Israeli lawmakers moved quickly Thursday to put in place a new government following a High Court ruling that cleared the way for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead a fresh coalition despite his indictment on bribery and other corruption charges.

Some 72 parliament members, well in excess of the 61 needed for majority support, formally endorsed Netanyahu to form the country's first government in more than a year and begin his fifth term as prime minister.

The Knesset also approved changes Thursday to the Basic Law, Israel's equivalent of a constitution, that allow for the complex power-sharing agreement under which Netanyahu will govern with his former rival, Benny Gantz. The High Court of Justice ruling, released late Wednesday, also paved the way for the unity coalition agreement under which they will take turns in the top job.

Israeli President Reuvin Rivlin gave Netanyahu the authority to finalize the arrangement, with the new government to be sworn in next week.

In a marathon hearing, a panel of 11 judges this week considered arguments against Netanyahu’s right to form a government after being indicted in November in three criminal cases. The court also heard challenges to parts of the accord between Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White faction.

The court, in a unanimous ruling, said that even the filing of criminal charges against a member of the Knesset “does not prevent tasking him with forming a government and leading it.”

The justices also refused to upend the complex coalition deal signed by Netanyahu and Gantz on April 20 after weeks of difficult negotiations, calling the arrangement a political matter “at the heart of the democratic process.”

“External intervention poses a serious violation of the principle of democracy that underlies our system of government,” the justices wrote in their decision.

In marathon hearing, Israel’s top court debates Netanyahu’s fate, legalities of his coalition

Gantz, a former military chief of staff, went head to head with Netanyahu through three rounds of inconclusive national voting over the past year. Following the March 2 election that again left neither leader with a path to a majority, Gantz reversed his pledge to never join forces with Netanyahu, saying the coronavirus emergency made it imperative to form Israel’s first government since late 2018.

On Wednesday, hours before the court made its ruling, the two leaders met to hammer out last details of their agreement. Netanyahu will serve the first 18 months as prime minister, followed by an 18-month term for Gantz, with two shorter rotations to follow. Each will act as the other’s deputy prime minister and share equal veto powers over many government decisions.

The High Court’s review of the arrangement in sessions Sunday and Monday sparked debate over its authority to interfere in the decisions of recently elected officials to enter into a governing agreement with the controversial prime minister at its center.

Netanyahu’s critics said that allowing him to remain in power while facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust would have a corrosive effect on the country’s adherence to the rule of law.

But others argued that a substantial plurality of voters continued to support Netanyahu and that barring him from office before the legal process against him played out would amount to nullifying the will of the electorate.

Even Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who oversaw the investigation and indictments against Netanyahu, advised the court that charges alone should not keep Netanyahu from forming a government. Israeli law allows a prime minister to serve through a trial and until appeals are exhausted, he said.

The High Court, while expressing unease over Netanyahu’s alleged “violations of moral integrity,” said it could find no legal basis to keep him from office.

Israeli leaders agree to form unity government with Netanyahu remaining prime minister for now

Analysis: Israel nears a point of no return

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