Israel’s Supreme Court Discusses Netanyahu’s Fate as Prime Minister

May 3, 2020 Updated: May 3, 2020

JERUSALEM—Israel’s Supreme Court began a two-day hearing on Sunday to determine whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicted for corruption, will be allowed to form a new government.

A ruling against Netanyahu would likely trigger a snap election, the fourth since April 2019, as the country grapples with the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout.

Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement last month to form a unity government under which they would take turns leading Israel after three elections that neither of them won.

Currently head of a caretaker government, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister of a new administration for 18 months before handing the reins to centrist Gantz, according to the unity deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with Israel’s health minister regarding preparations and new regulations for the CCP virus, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on March 4, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AFP via Getty Images)

But several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, have petitioned the country’s highest court to nullify the deal and bar Netanyahu from leading the government, citing the criminal proceedings against him.

Responding to the petition, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said there was no sufficient legal ground to disqualify Netanyahu.

A ruling is expected to be announced by Thursday.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was indicted in January on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing in all three cases against him and has said that he is a victim of a political witch hunt.

Netanyahu’s trial is due to start on May 24.

Israeli law says a prime minister under indictment is not obligated to step down until a final conviction.

If convicted, Netanyahu could face up to 10 years in prison on bribery charges and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.