The Israeli Supreme Court launched a two-day hearing on Sunday to determine whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been charged with corruption, can form a new government.
A ruling against Netanyahu would likely trigger an early election, the fourth since April 2019, as the country is grappling with the coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences.
Netanyahu and his main competitor Benny Gantz signed an agreement to form a unity government last month, under which they would alternately lead Israel after three elections that neither of them won.
The right-wing Netanyahu, who has been in power for more than a decade and is currently head of a transitional government, will be prime minister of a new government for 18 months before handing over the reins to the centrist Gantz under the unity agreement.
But several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, have petitioned the country's Supreme Court to suspend the agreement and prevented Netanyahu from leading the government and led the criminal proceedings against him.
The Israeli attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, replied to the petition that there was insufficient legal grounds to disqualify Netanyahu.
Some Israeli analysts said the court, which Netanyahu loyalists classified as liberal and interventionist, was unlikely to prevent the prime minister from leading a new government. A decision is expected to be announced by Thursday.
Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving prime minister, was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in January. He denies any wrongdoing against him in all three cases and has stated that he was the victim of a political witch hunt.
The trial of Netanyahu is scheduled to begin on May 24.
Under Israeli law, an accused prime minister is not required to resign pending a final sentence.
Netanyahu is suspected of having wrongly accepted gifts from businessmen worth $ 264,000, including cigars and champagne, according to prosecutors, and alleged offers for improved coverage by a popular news website and Israel's best-selling regulatory newspaper To advertise favors.
If convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to 10 years for bribery and a maximum prison term of three years for fraud and breach of trust.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)