Israel’s high court is set to begin hearing petitions against Benjamin Netanyahu forming a government while facing criminal indictments.

The Sunday proceedings, held by a large panel of 11 justices and, in a rare instance, to also be broadcast live, will focus on the issue of whether an politician can form a government while under indictment — something the Israeli legal code does not explicitly prohibit.

If the court voids Mr Netanyahu’s ability to serve as prime minister, Israel could be plunged into political chaos and it would likely trigger the country’s fourth election in just over 12 months.

The high court has become a lightning rod for criticism by Mr Netanyahu and his political allies, who accuse it of over-reach and political interference, while the long-time leader’s opponents consider it a bastion of democracy under dangerous assault.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have been taking to the streets weekly to protest against Mr Netanyahu’s continued rule. Last week, counter-protesters against the court demonstrated against its hearing the petitions against his rule.

In an unprecedented move, Sunday’s hearing would be broadcast live on the high court’s website while most of the country remains under coronavirus movement restrictions.

Mr Netanyahu was indicted earlier this year on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.

He has denied any wrongdoing. His trial was postponed due to restrictions his hand-picked interim justice minister placed on the courts after the coronavirus crisis erupted and is scheduled to commence later this month.

Last week, Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit said in an opinion to the court that while Mr Netanyahu’s indictments “raise significant problems,” there was no legal basis for barring him from serving while facing criminal charges.

Israeli law mandates that Cabinet ministers and mayors resign if indicted, but prime ministers are not specifically required to step down.
In January, the Supreme Court declined to rule on whether Mr Netanyahu could form a government under indictment, saying the matter remained “theoretical” ahead of March’s elections.

On Monday, the court will address petitions concerning Mr Netanyahu’s power-sharing coalition deal with his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz. The petitions were filed by advocacy groups that have asked the high court to ban any indicted politician, including Mr Netanyahu, from being allowed to form a new government. They also say that parts of the coalition deal are illegal.

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