‘No legal obstacle to Netanyahu forming govt despite criminal charges’

JERUSALEM, March 15, 2020 (Xinhua) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus in Jerusalem on March 14, 2020. Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Saturday the closure of all shopping centers, restaurants, cafes, theaters and cinemas as part of the efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. So far, 193 coronavirus cases have been reported in Israel, of whom four have recovered. (Alex Kolomoisky/JINI /Handout via Xinhua/IANS)

Jerusalem, May 1 (IANS) Israel Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said that there was no legal obstacle to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming and leading the next government despite the criminal charges against him, the media reported.

Mandelblit made the remarks in an opinion submitted on Thursday to the High Court of Justice as a response to a petition that will be heard on Sunday in front of an expanded panel of 11 judges, The Times of Israel newspaper reported.

“Despite the significant difficulties that arise in this matter, they do not constitute grounds for judicial intervention,” the newspaper quoted Mandelblit as saying in the opinion with regard to the bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges that he himself in January filed against Netanyahu in three cases.

Under the terms of the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s ruling Likud and his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, if the court disqualifies Netanyahu as Prime Minister in the first six months of the new coalition’s lifespan, there will be new elections.

Mandelblit’s opinion was part of discussions held at the Supreme Court over a series of petitions submitted by anti-corruption groups and high-profile public figures from the academy, high-tech, and the security system, including two former Shin Bet security service chiefs, reports Xinhua news agency.

They asked the top court to ban Netanyahu from serving as Prime Minister for his criminal indictment.

Also on Thursday, the Israeli Parliament approved in the first reading a bill to enable the unity government deal.

Under the unusual power-sharing deal signed on April 20, Netanyahu will serve as Prime Minister for 18 months before being replaced by Gantz.

The unity government deal was achieved after three rounds of elections that produced inconclusive results in about a year.

The bill still needs two more full rounds of readings in Parliament before getting its final approvement.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and calls the allegations part of “a witch-hunt”.

His trial is scheduled to begin on May 24 in the Jerusalem District Court.

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