JERUSALEM (Aug. 12)
Rejecting the legal advice of both Attorney General Yosef Harish and Justice Minister David Libai, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is insisting that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri should remain in office until charges are presented against him in court.
Deri, who heads the fervently Orthodox Shas party, a member of the governing coalition, is accused of committing acts of bribery, fraud and breach of the public trust, but these charges cannot formally be brought against him until the Knesset removes his parliamentary immunity.
The Knesset House Committee is scheduled to convene Sept. 26 to review the immunity question, which eventually would have to be voted on by the full parliament.
Rabin said Wednesday that he would honor his agreement with Deri that the interior minister would only leave after an indictment against him is presented in court.
The prime minister was referring to a letter Deri had submitted prior to the formation of the government last summer in which he said he would leave office if and when a charge sheet against him was presented in court.
Although Rabin himself made no reciprocal commitment, he regarded the agreement he made with the Shas party when he formed the coalition as implying just that.
Speaking Wednesday on Israel Television, Rabin indicated he would not suspend Deri or ask him to take a leave of office.
“A prime minister cannot disregard his own commitment,” especially when it is “the basis of the present coalition agreement,” he said.
But Rabin added that he would honor any ruling by the Supreme Court on the matter.
DIFFERENCES WITH JUSTICE MINISTER
The prime minister’s stand creates an unprecedented situation in which he has come out strongly in defense of a minister charged with serious crimes despite the fact that such a stance has created a major confrontation with the government’s own legal institutions.
It is one of the few instances in which the prime minister has acted contrary to the advice of the attorney general, who is regarded as the legal adviser of the government.
The situation has put the attorney general into an impossible position in which he may have to explain to the court why Deri is still in office — contrary to his own publicized opinion that the interior minister should step down.
The court on Tuesday gave the government two weeks to respond to an appeal by the Movement for Quality Government why Deri should not be relieved of his duties.
Justice Minister Libai reiterated his view Thursday that Deri should step down, explaining that the only reason the indictment had not yet been submitted in court was because the Knesset had not lifted Deri’s parliamentary immunity.
Relations between Rabin and Libai have sharply deteriorated in the past week due to the justice minister’s stand in the affair.
Rabin criticized Libai in the television interview. When asked, Rabin would not say if he intended to dismiss the justice minister.
And Libai himself said he had no intention of resigning.