Thousands in Tel Aviv protest Netanyahu-Gantz alliance deal ahead of trial

Israelis mainly dressed in black and keeping a safe distance amid the coronavirus pandemic take part in a demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on May 2, 2020. (Photo by AFP)
Thousands in Tel Aviv have protested a coalition deal between prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, one day before the supreme court began examining the legitimacy of the deal.

The deal between Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges, and his main challenger in the two elections this year, was an attempt to end a yearlong political deadlock following three inconclusive elections.

The deal will entail shared premiership among the two politicians, each being allocated 18 months in office.
The protesters who took to the streets for the third consecutive weekend Saturday fiercely oppose the power-sharing deal mainly because it allows Netanyahu to stay in power all the while he prepares to go on trial for corruption charges.

The protesters on Saturday night carried signs that read "We're sick of corruption" and "emergency government, corruption government". At the mention of members of Gantz's Blue and White party, the crowd booed and shouted, "Shame!"

Among the speakers at the rally, retired general Nehemiah Dagan said, "We must force the Knesset to legislate a law preventing a criminal suspect from serving as prime minister, just like ministers can't."

"And if the court can't address the morality clause, then we must head to Jerusalem [al-Quds] and our massive numbers will shake the foundations," he said.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office. According to Israeli law, he can remain as the prime minister until a final conviction is reached. 

He has been pressed for seven counts of three criminal charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He denies the charges and presents himself as a victim of political witch hunt.

His trial is due to start on May 24. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison on bribery charges and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
Several advocacy groups have filed a legal challenge to Israel's supreme court, requesting it to ban incriminated politicians, including Netanyahu, from being allowed to form a new cabinet.

Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit has dismissed the petition, saying that there is no sufficient legal ground to disqualify Netanyahu.

Some Israeli analysts, however, believe the court is cast by Netanyahu's loyalists and see any possibility of him being barred from forming a new cabinet as unlikely. 

The supreme court started a two-day hearing on Sunday to decide on whether Netanyahu should be allowed to form a new government despite his corruption cases.

If the hearing results in the annulment of the coalition deal, Israel could be plunged into a fourth election in 16 months.

That would put Israel in a more precarious situation since it is already in a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.