Israel’s Supreme Court began hearing arguments to determine whether prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment on criminal charges disqualifies him from forming a new government. A ruling against Netanyahu is likely to push the country into a fourth election in about a year.
The court will also hear petitions challenging a coalition deal with his rival Benny Gantz, who is currently speaker of Israel’s parliament.
Netanyahu declared victory in the 2 March election. His Likud party led the way with 36 seats, ahead of Gantz’s Blue and White party, with 33 seats. However, 61 of parliament’s 120 legislators supported Gantz, giving him a slim majority.
Since then, Gantz and Netanyahu agreed a “national emergency” government aiming to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Under the three-year deal, both leaders will switch positions, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for the first half, and Gantz taking the job for the second half.
The deal came after both leaders missed the deadline to form a government, and president Reuven Rivlin asked the parliament to choose a new prime minister, giving it three weeks to agree upon a leader or trigger a snap election.
Several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to nullify the deal and bar Netanyahu from leading the government, citing the criminal proceedings against him.
In January, Netanyahu was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies the allegations, saying the charges have been trumped up by a liberal media and a justice system looking to depose him. The trial was delayed because of the pandemic and is due to start on May 24.
If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison on bribery charges and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.