High Court gives A-G 9 days until hearing on PM's eligibility

Netanyahu, Saar, Shaked: None of court's business.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The High Court of Justice on Sunday set a hearing for December 31 for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to argue before it along with other parties about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a government.
Mandelblit must submit a legal brief on the issue by December 29 and the hearing will be before High Court President Esther Hayut, Vice President Hanan Melcer and Justice Uzi Vogelman.
The attorney-general had told the High Court on Friday that he would only give his opinion pre-election about Netanyahu's eligibility to form a government if the court confirmed to him that it intended to rule on the issue at this pre-election stage.
Setting the hearing seemed to be an indication that the court was moving in that direction.
Netanyahu reacted by questioning the right of the Supreme Court to intervene.
"In a democracy, only the nation decides who will lead the nation and no one else," he told Likud activists at a campaign rally in Jerusalem.
Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked said that only the president can decide who gets to form a government and the Supreme Court cannot intervene. She said that was clear in the law.
"Trampling Basic Laws or twisting them is a grave mistake that will lead to the public losing trust in the legal system and a feeling that a coup is taking place," Shaked warned.
Even the prime minister's challenger in Thursday's Likud leadership race, MK Gideon Sa'ar, defended him.
"The question of whether Netanyahu can form a government is not a legal question but a political one, and it is not right for the Court to get involved in the matter," Sa'ar said. "The law is clear: A prime minister must be replaced in the ballot box and not in court."
Although Mandelblit had refused to take a definitive side on Friday, his remarkable legal opinion summarized both sides of the question on an issue which could determine the fate of the nation.
He summarized arguments both about whether the voters had a right to know the court’s decision pre-election or whether the very act of the court issuing an opinion pre-election would be an undue interference with voters’ right to choose.
All of this has come to a head following Mandelblit’s own decision to issue an indictment against Netanyahu for bribery and other crimes on November 21.
However, there are disparate legal arguments about whether Netanyahu must resign in the near future because of the indictment or whether he can stay in office until a future potential conviction and the exhaustion of all appeals.
Since that question itself is ambiguous, there is also a lack of clarity about whether the court must weigh in pre-election.
A group of hi-tech officials filed a petition earlier in December pressing the issue.
In response to the petition, Mandelblit said that the complexity of the issue and the massive consequences it carried for the country mandated that the High Court confirm it would decide the issue.
By the very fact that Mandelblit did not take the court’s initial order to give his opinion, and suggested that the court had to effectively “convince” him that it was going to determine the issue, he hinted that it would be better for the judicial establishment to let the voters decide the issue.
He also said that he would prefer that the court decide the issue without him having to weigh in at all, with the court being able to note that he effectively took a neutral stance on the question.
However, after Sunday's ruling, it appears that Mandelblit will need to take a definitive position on the issue.