The hearing - from which conclusions are not expected soon - is key for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it will determine if he can prolong his political career after next March’s election, the country’s third general election in less than one year.
If the court was to decide the PM is no longer eligible, a constitutional crisis could be triggered, further intensifying the already complicated relations between the government and the justice.
The law in Israel states that ministers and mayors must immediately resign if indicted. However, it does not specify what happens for a serving prime minister, leaving Netanyahu without restrictions to run after the next election if he wins, a situation that has been questioned by many.
The court could also consider that such a scenario is unlikely to happen and postpone the case until it effectively occurs.
The hearing was held as Netanyahu announced Sunday his decision to ask the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) for immunity from the charges against him. Immunity would help him to delay the prospect of a trial until the election that, in the case of a victory and a majority in parliament, would protect him from prosecution.
Yet, a request for immunity needs to be approved by a parliamentary committee and submitted to a vote. The committee charged with these matters does not exist because no government was formed after the last election. Netanyahu’s request for immunity is thus likely to wait for examination for months.
On the other hand, the attorney general cannot file the indictment until the question of the immunity is cleared, which delays any court proceedings.
Last week, Netanyahu was re-elected leader of the Likud party and claimed that the judicial and law enforcement are trying to drive him from the office, adding that only the voters can decide who will govern the country.
The PM, who is the Jewish state’s longest-serving premier, was indicted last month on charges of bribery fraud and breach of trust stemming from three criminal cases including the trade of political favors for positive press coverage and accepting luxurious gifts from wealthy supporters. He is Israel’s first PM in service to be charged with a crime.
Netanyahu and his allies have dismissed the allegations as an “attempted coup.”