(TPS) Israeli government and opposition leaders began gearing up for negotiations over judicial reform after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed on Monday night to suspend his coalition’s legislative blitz.
President Isaac Herzog asked both camps to establish negotiation teams so that he can begin immediate mediation.
The opposition parties announced their negotiating team, which includes former Justice Minister Gideon Saar. The coalition has not announced the members of its negotiating team.
Demonstrations against the controversial judicial overhaul escalated on Monday with mass protests, a nationwide strike, and an evening counter-demonstration outside the parliament.
The governing coalition’s judicial reforms are deeply controversial. Legislation advancing through the Knesset would primarily alter the way judges are appointed and removed, give the Knesset the ability to override certain Supreme Court rulings, restrict the ability of judges to apply standards of “reasonableness,” and change the way legal advisors are appointed to government ministries.
Supporters of the legal overhaul say they want to end years of judicial overreach, while opponents describe the proposals as anti-democratic.
Further complicating Netanyahu’s efforts to push the legislation, he was prohibited by former Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in 2020 from influencing government appointments that could have an impact on his corruption trial. Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
That agreement applies to Netanyahu’s involvement in the activities of police investigators, the State Prosecutor, the Attorney General and several other Justice Ministry bodies tasked with issues of government corruption and ethics oversight.
Israel’s Supreme Court on Sunday gave Netanyahu one week to explain his personal involvement in judicial reform or be found in contempt.
Netanyahu appeals to King Solomon
In his Monday evening televised address, Netanyahu said he was pausing the judicial reform legislation process in order to “provide a real opportunity for real dialogue.”
“We are on the path toward a dangerous collision in Israeli society. We are in the midst of a crisis that endangers the basic unity between us. Such a crisis requires us all to act responsibly,” he said.
“Yesterday, I read [National Unity Party Chairman] Benny Gantz’s letter in which he undertakes to enter in good faith into negotiations on all issues. I know there are other people who support this approach. To them I extend my hand,” said the prime minister, calling his decision “a timeout for dialogue.”
Noting that he first received support from his coalition members for his legislative postponement, he stressed that his government remains committed to passing judicial reform. “We insist on the need to bring about the necessary corrections to the judicial system. We are taking an opportunity to achieve them with broad agreement.”
The premier then announced that he was halting the reform legislation scheduled to be voted on in the current session, referring to a bill prepared on Sunday in committee concerning how judges are selected.
Netanyahu began his speech with the biblical story of King Solomon and the two mothers who claimed the same child. Solomon declared that to discover the identity of the true mother, he would cut the baby in two. The false mother agreed to those terms while the real mother cried out against them.
“Also today, both sides in the national dispute claim the love of the baby, the love of the country,” he said. “I am aware of the enormous tension that is building up between the two camps, the two parts of the nation. I am attentive to the desire of many citizens to relieve this tension.”
“But there is one thing that I am not ready to accept. There is an extremist minority that is ready to tear our country apart. It turns to violence, sets fires, threatens to harm elected officials, fueling a fratricidal war and calls for refusal to serve—a terrible crime.
“The State of Israel cannot exist without the IDF, and the IDF cannot exist with refusals to serve. Refusal on one side will lead to refusal on the other side. Refusal is the end of our country, and therefore I demand from the heads of the security branch and the heads of the army to firmly oppose the phenomenon of refusal,” he said.
“Those who call for refusal, those who call for anarchy and violence, are consciously tearing the baby apart,” added the prime minister.
Netanyahu reassured his supporters that “one way or another” his government would bring the required reform in order to restore the balance between the government branches, “while preserving, and I add, even strengthening, the rights of the individual.”
He thanked the “tens of thousands” of supporters who came to Jerusalem “spontaneously, unorganized, unfunded, without a media push,” to raise their voices in favor of reform on Monday night. “Our way is just. A large majority of the public today recognizes the necessity of democratic reform in the judicial system.”
He concluded: “Citizens of Israel, we live in a generation of revival. History gives us an extraordinary opportunity. An opportunity that has never existed in the history of nations to return to our country, to build our homeland, and our country.
“Soon we will celebrate Passover, Independence Day. We will sit at the holiday table together, mourn our fallen together. Together we will celebrate our independence and express gratitude to the men and women of our security forces, who forget not for one moment their duty to protect all of us, all the time, because we all have a common destiny. We all have a common purpose. And this purpose is to ensure the eternity of Israel.”
With reporting by JNS.
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