In an eagerly awaited decision, Israel’s supreme court ruled Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a new government even while under indictment for alleged corruption.
The ruling paves the way for the right-wing Netanyahu to form a coalition government with centrist opposition leader Benny Gantz after three inconclusive elections over the past year.
The 11-judge panel, all wearing face masks, unanimously ruled that they “found no legal basis to prevent Knesset member Netanyahu from forming the government.”
They said that while Netanyahu has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, their decision “should not be construed as diminishing the gravity of the charges faced by against public probity, nor the difficulty posed by the tenure of a prime minister accused of crimes.”
Charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust
A court indicted Netanyahu late last year on charges if bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, including allegations of promising political favors to media tycoons in exchange for lavish gifts or favorable news coverage. He denies the charges and calls himself the victim of a political witch hunt. His trial is set to begin May 24.
Under Israeli law, indicted government ministers must resign. But it has never been settled whether the law also applies to prime ministers or whether they are allowed to form a government while facing a trial.
Israel has been in political limbo for more than a year after neither Netanyahu nor Gantz was able to form a government after three inconclusive general elections.
Gantz had said he would refuse to be part of a unity government that includes an indicted prime minister. But he changed his mind last month, saying he wants to help Israel emerge from the coronavirus pandemic without a fourth election hanging over its head.
Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White parties said in a joint statement Wednesday their new government will be sworn in next Wednesday.
The power-sharing deal calls for Netanyahu to remain prime minister and Gantz in the newly-formed office of “alternate prime minister” for 18 months before they switch jobs.
Opponents to the deal argue that the job of “alternate prime minister” is illegal.