Top Israel court to hear bids to block coalition deal

If the expanded panel of 11 judges set to hear the case deems the coalition deal invalid, Israel may be forced to hold its fourth election in less than two years. (File/AFP/Jack Guez)
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Updated 03 May 2020

Top Israel court to hear bids to block coalition deal

  • Under the three-year coalition deal, the government’s first six months will be dedicated primarily to combatting the novel coronavirus
  • With neither man able to form a viable governing coalition in Israel’s deeply divided 120-seat parliament, they agreed to a power-sharing deal last month

JERUSALEM: Israel’s top court will consider Sunday whether to block the coalition government agreed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz, a case that could force another election.
Netanyahu, a right-wing premier in power since 2009, and the centrist ex-military chief Gantz, faced off in three inconclusive elections in less than a year.
With neither man able to form a viable governing coalition in Israel’s deeply divided 120-seat parliament, they agreed to a power-sharing deal last month, aiming to avert a fourth vote opposed across the political spectrum.
Under the three-year coalition deal, the government’s first six months will be dedicated primarily to combatting the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 16,000 Israelis and ravaged the economy.
But eight separate petitions to be examined by the Supreme Court seek to declare the deal illegal, including one from former Gantz ally Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid.
Lapid broke with Gantz last month when the ex-military commander was elected parliament speaker and decided to pursue a deal with Netanyahu.
Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated against the deal in Tel Aviv on Saturday, the latest in a series of protests over a unity government.

One argument against the coalition government, which has not yet been sworn in, centers on indictments filed against Netanyahu in January.
The veteran premier has been charged with accepting improper gifts and illegally trading favors in exchange for favorable media coverage. He denies wrongdoing and his trial is set to start May 24.
Israeli law bars an indicted person from serving as an ordinary cabinet minister, but does not compel a criminally-charged prime minister to leave office.
The complication regarding Netanyahu is that he is not currently an ordinary prime minister. He has been serving as the caretaker head of a transitional government through Israel’s grinding political deadlock.
According to some interpretations of Israeli law, that makes Netanyahu merely a candidate to become prime minister.
The deal’s opponents argue that his candidacy should be therefore disqualified by the indictments.
In an opinion delivered to the Supreme Court this week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted Netanyahu, argued there is no legal basis to prohibit him from leading a government.
Interviewed on public radio Saturday, energy minister and Netanyahu ally Yuval Steinitz said that if the court rules Netanyahu cannot serve, it would amount to “an unprecedented attack on Israeli democracy.”
The Gantz-Netanyahu agreement is “a necessity, the result of three election campaigns and a desire among Israelis to avoid a fourth election.”

The main argument against the coalition deal concerns specific provisions opponents say violate the law.
The agreement sees Netanyahu serving as prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz as his “alternate,” a new title in Israeli governance.
They will swap roles midway through the deal, likely taking voters back to the polls in 36 months.
But Israeli law traditionally endows governments with four-year mandates, an issue pounced on by the deal’s opponents.
There is also a provision freezing certain public appointments during the government’s initial six-month pandemic emergency phase, which critics also say is illegal.
The attorney general’s opinion said that while “certain arrangements in the coalition agreement raise major difficulties... at this time there are no grounds to disqualify (it).”
He advised that problematic provisions be reviewed “at the implementation stage.”
If the expanded panel of 11 judges set to hear the case deems the coalition deal invalid, Israel may be forced to hold its fourth election in less than two years.


Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.