Wednesday’s decision by Israel’s High Court of Justice to stay out of the coalition deal between Likud, and Blue and White, and allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government despite being under indictment is first and foremost a victory for the court itself.
Whether the ruling the was the result of the court taking Netanyahu’s hint—some would even say thinly veiled threat—about forcing a fourth election, or whether the judges simply understood that a ruling to the contrary would be harmful on multiple levels, the court avoided a pitfall with this decision. However, the letter of the ruling clearly shows that the court has left the door open for future intervention in the political process and legislation down the line.
In fact, the ruling all but invites future petitions to challenge the government once the legislative procedure instating the Likud-Blue and White coalition is complete.
It may look like a done deal, but the Knesset has yet to officially task Netanyahu with forming the next government, something that needs to happen by midnight Thursday. After that, everyone will have two weeks to duke it out for ministries and positions and in the meantime, Likud will assume control of the Arrangements Committee, thus voiding the series of personalized bills designed to undermine Netanyahu’s ability to form a government.
It is widely believed that Netanyahu plans to stick to his deal with Gantz and does not plan to trigger another election; on Wednesday evening, he and Blue and White head Benny Gantz agreed that the new government will be sworn in next Wednesday.
But the arena usually dominated by politicians now has to make room for the High Court of Justice, which has turned itself into the linchpin of the political process. The court may still intervene in the coalition deal and demand revisions, which could potentially upend the agreement. Left to its own devices, the political system is poised to settle after a very tumultuous year and vote in a new government. Over-intervention by the court at this stage can only bring about chaos.
This is a game in which both sides are taking big risks: Netanyahu risks the court changing its mind during the next 18 months about his ability to stay in office while facing trial. If it does, this may force his hand with regard to honoring the rotation agreement with Gantz for the premiership, and he may prefer to dissolve the parliament and take his chances with another election.
Gantz, for his part, risks the court invalidating the defense mechanism built into the coalition deal to ensure the rotation agreement’s integrity.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has no desire to undermine the right-wing bloc but finds it hard to give Yamina leader Naftali Bennett what he wants, namely the health portfolio. While doing so would resolve a dilemma, giving the health portfolio to Blue and White could yield Likud one or two smaller ministries, thus appeasing more Likud officials.
That is another dilemma Netanyahu will have to solve soon.
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.