The Supreme Court of Israel has met to hear a petition about whether a member of the accused parliament can form a new government, a key case for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to see if he can prolong his political career after the March elections.
If the court decides that Netanyahu is not eligible, it could precipitate a constitutional crisis in Israel and exacerbate already weak ties between the Israeli government and the judiciary.
The court is not expected to issue an immediate ruling on Tuesday and may request that a full panel of the tribunal meet to discuss the matter. Either way, he was getting into unknown territory.
Israeli law requires cabinet ministers and mayors to resign if they are charged, but do not specify it for an acting prime minister.
There are no restrictions for Netanyahu to appear in the March 2 election, the third survey in less than a year, but good government groups are appealing whether he could be assigned the task of forming a new government if he wins.
Given the unstable legal ground, the court could consider the scenario hypothetical and delay the case until that happens.
The hearing occurs when Netanyahu seems ready to seek immunity against corruption charges against him, delaying the possibility of a trial until the elections, when he hopes to have a majority parliamentary coalition to protect him from being prosecuted.
The immunity application is likely to languish under the current parliament.
Normally, a request for immunity should be approved by a parliamentary committee and then submitted to a full vote. But the committee responsible for handling such matters does not exist because a government was never formed after the September elections.
The attorney general cannot present the accusation until the issue of immunity is resolved, delaying any judicial proceeding.
Netanyahu, who was re-elected leader of the ruling Likud party last week, has long accused judicial and police officials of trying to expel him from office and has said that only voters can choose who will lead the country. Their allies have issued severe warnings against what they call an "activist,quot; court exceeding their authority.
Netanyahu has been in power for more than a decade and is the oldest leader in Israel. He was charged last month on charges of bribery, fraud and abuse of trust arising from three cases of exchange of political and regulatory favors for positive press coverage and acceptance of generous gifts from wealthy supporters.
Netanyahu has dismissed the accusations as an "attempted coup d'etat,quot; and has promised to fight them from the prime minister's office. Netanyahu is the first prime minister of Israel to be charged with a crime. His predecessor, Ehud Olmert, was forced to resign a decade ago before an accusation of corruption that later sent him to prison for 16 months.
Netanyahu: Israel will make its own decisions