Israel's Supreme Court clears Benjamin Netanyahu to form government despite corruption charges
Court also found incumbent's power-sharing deal with Benny Gantz wasn't against law
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment on corruption charges does not disqualify him from forming a government, Israel’s top court said on Wednesday.
In its ruling against opposition petitioners, the Supreme Court also found Mr Netanyahu’s unity government deal with his election rival Benny Gantz was not against the law, dismissing arguments that it unlawfully shielded him in a corruption trial.
The ruling removes a legal hurdle to the coalition government that right-wing Mr Netanyahu and centrist Mr Gantz plan to swear in next week, after three inconclusive elections in the past year.
It also moves the country closer to ending its political deadlock as it grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
In unanimous rulings, the panel of 11 justices “found no legal basis to prevent Knesset member Netanyahu from forming the government”.
But it said its decision “should not be construed as diminishing the gravity of the charges against public probity, nor the difficulty posed by the tenure of a prime minister accused of crimes".
The court said Mr Netanyahu had the right to presumption of innocence.
Mr Netanyahu was indicted in January on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing in all three cases.
The coronavirus pandemic pushed Mr Gantz to backtrack on a campaign pledge not to serve in a government led by a premier facing criminal charges and sign an emergency unity deal with his rival.
Under the terms of the deal, Mr Netanyahu would serve as prime minister of a new administration for 18 months before stepping down for Mr Gantz.
The justices acknowledged that the former rivals’ deal was “unusual” in the country’s history, but said they had decided “there are no grounds for interference in any of its clauses”.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday night, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party and Mr Gantz’s Blue and White said they would hold a swearing-in ceremony for their government on May 13, “following the completion of the legislative process this evening”.
Mr Netanyahu's trial is set to begin on May 24.
Updated: May 7, 2020 05:03 AM