High Court interim order could set stage for overturning unity gov’t

Panel expanded from 3 to 9 justices

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Benny Gantz at a Knesset memorial ceremony for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, last year (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Benny Gantz at a Knesset memorial ceremony for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, last year
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
The High Court of Justice late Thursday issued an interim conditional order that could potentially lead to overturning fundamental aspects of the unity government as unconstitutional.
Signaling that the justices are taking the petition seriously to negate changes made to the Basic Laws in order to form the current unity government, the order expanded the number of justices hearing the case from three to nine.
On October 27, the High Court heard arguments about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial on several corruption counts, could be forced to resign when he swaps roles with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz in November 2021 and takes up the position of alternate prime minister.
It remains to be seen whether they ultimately will declare key components of the unity deal unconstitutional, sending the country to elections, or whether expanding the panel to nine justices is merely to ensure that the broadest possible panel ruled on this crucial issue.
Likud officials hinted that the High Court ruling could be used as an excuse for Netanyahu to initiate elections. They noted that every clause in the coalition agreement questioned by the court was proposed by Blue and White.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who represented Likud in coalition talks, called the decision scandalous and said the court was laying the groundwork for crossing a redline and interfering with a Basic Law. The court lacked the authority to make such a decision, and it underscored the need for changes in the judicial system that would receive public backing, he said.
“I will not stop struggling until the necessary changes in the legal system are made completely,” Levin said. “This is a long and hard struggle, but democracy and the will of the people will win.”
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, whose party petitioned the court, called on the court to cancel the coalition agreement and the laws passed to enable the government’s formation.
“The decision proved that the Netanyahu-Gantz government was formed on the basis of a corrupt agreement that went against the will of the voters and stole the election,” he said.
Blue and White did not respond to the decision on Thursday night.
The issue is one of several mentioned in petitions filed by various parties who question whether the role of alternate prime minister, the authority it holds and aspects of the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White are constitutional.
Already in May, the High Court allowed Netanyahu to form his coalition and said the main principles of the government deal were constitutional. But it delayed ruling on Netanyahu’s possible fate and other aspects of the rotation deal.
Petitioners, including the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, Meretz and the Guardians of Israeli Democracy, all argued that Netanyahu must resign when he no longer has the unique protections of the office of prime minister.
Creating immunity for the position of alternate prime minister and allowing him to stay in office under indictment until conviction and all appeals are exhausted (identical to the protections afforded to the prime minister) is unconstitutional and contradicts 25 years of High Court rulings, they have said.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted Netanyahu, recently told the High Court he views the role of alternate prime minister as constitutional.
The Knesset used its sovereign authority to pass Basic Laws to change aspects of the government’s powers, he said, including creating the alternate prime minister position, and that the legislature has the authority to create a new position beyond previous High Court precedents based on past laws.