February 24, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Will Benjamin Netanyahu win the Israeli elections?

Will Benjamin Netanyahu win the Israeli elections?

From our special correspondent in Israel – After three months of war between Israel and Hamas, the Israeli Supreme Court dealt two major blows to Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling coalition this week. The court scrapped a key part of the government's polarizing judicial reform plan, delaying implementation of a law protecting the prime minister from mandatory resignation. FRANCE 24 spoke with Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, about the impact of these decisions.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a major setback on Monday when the country's Supreme Court voted narrowly (8 to 7) to overturn a law passed in July that deprives judges of the right to veto government and parliamentary decisions they consider “unreasonable.”

The law was a key component of the government's controversial plan to reform the country's judicial system, which sparked widespread protests across the country.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Prime Minister suffered another legal defeat, as judges ruled (6 to 5) to delay the implementation of a controversial law that would protect Netanyahu from being forced from office if ordered to do so by the attorney general or the court. supreme court.

the Step-down lawwhich was passed in March, will only enter into force at the beginning of the next term of the Israeli parliament after the next general elections.

The Israeli Supreme Court rulings come at a time when Netanyahu's popularity is declining in opinion polls amid growing criticism of the Israeli attack on Gaza.

according to Recent studyNetanyahu's party – Likud – would only win half of the seats it currently holds (16 versus 32) if elections were held now.

To better understand the impact of the Supreme Court's decisions, FRANCE 24 spoke to Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Dr. Amir Fuchs, senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, in Kfar Saba, Israel on January 4, 2024. © Asia Hamza, France 24

France 24: What consequences would this reform have had if it had not been annulled by the Supreme Court?

Fox: Government reform aims to reduce the power of the judiciary. Israel has no official constitution. But we have these basic laws that are considered a quasi-constitution. If a law conflicts with the basic laws, the Supreme Court can say that it is unconstitutional and can therefore strike it down. This has happened less than 20 times in the 30 years since the Supreme Court changed Israel's system of government in 1995.

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In Israel, we do not have checks and balances as in other countries' systems. For example, we do not have a true separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The government is governed by a majority coalition in Parliament. If you win a simple majority of 61 seats, you can do whatever you want. The only thing we have as a counterweight is a strong, independent Supreme Court. What the Netanyahu government wanted to do was change that.

The government also wanted to change the method of nominating judges. So they can appoint the judges they want.

The Attorney General heads the State Public Prosecution Service. Netanyahu is currently facing charges of fraud and corruption. If the law is passed, Netanyahu could fire the attorney general and choose another, which would be more convenient for him.

The Supreme Court also delayed a recusal law aimed at protecting Netanyahu, saying it was “clearly personal” in nature. What does it mean?

FOX: For decades we've had a very vague law that says that when the prime minister is incapacitated, someone will take his place. But it did not explain the reasons behind this deficit. Will this be for medical reasons or other reasons? Nothing has been written about this – or what procedures to follow.

Thus, the Netanyahu government decided to change the incapacity law – meaning that only when the prime minister himself says he is incapacitated, or three-quarters of the government says he is incapacitated, will the prime minister be removed from office.

The government then needs a two-thirds majority in the Knesset. They have taken measures to ensure that this never happens. After they voted in favor of him, Netanyahu announced to everyone that his hands were no longer tied. However, the court said that the law was “clearly personal in nature” and postponed its implementation until the next session of the Knesset. Therefore, the law will not be implemented until the next elections.

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Can Netanyahu be removed?

Fox: If there is a majority of 61 MPs, they can hold a vote of no confidence and form a new government.

But what could happen – and what always happens in Israel when a government loses political support – is that they just announce new elections. This is why you need 61 representatives in the Knesset who support holding new elections. The entire opposition will agree to this. We have seen in the polls that many people who voted for the coalition are now completely against it. I don't know when the war will end. But if the war ended tomorrow, they would probably announce elections.

Will Netanyahu be held accountable for the October 7 attacks?

If the government changes, there will be a commission of inquiry, which is very independent because it is appointed by the Supreme Court, not the government. This usually happens after major failures such as what happened in 1973 and 1982, when Christian militias, with the support of the Israeli army, slaughtered up to 2,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon.

The committee will ask Netanyahu tough questions and issue a ruling. They will say he is responsible. He was negligent. He cannot be re-elected. For example, when they said that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who also served as Defense Minister during the Sabra and Shatila massacres, could no longer serve as Defense Minister, he was removed from his position.

If Netanyahu is convicted in his various trials, will he be able to remain in power?

If he is convicted by a final court ruling after appeal, then under the basic laws he must step down. It will take some time – at least another year.

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Maybe after the war, when Netanyahu sees everything falling apart, he might get some kind of deal – where he won't go to prison and won't even be convicted of anything serious in exchange for stepping down and not participating in the elections. .

Once Netanyahu understands that he cannot be re-elected, he may support the deal. I am sure that the prosecutor will aim to reach such a deal so that he does not have to deal with a trial.

Again, this is an optimistic scenario. Not sure this will happen. Many people were sure this would happen years ago when he was indicted in 2019 on corruption charges. But he chose to struggle and ran for elections again and again. He's never given up, but maybe he'll have some good advisors who will tell him: “This is the time to step down, you're not popular enough, you're not going to get elected. So, at least use this bargaining chip to close things out.” Criminal files on you.”

This article has been translated from the original in French.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.