Gallant said considering apology over timing of statement against judicial push

Shas’s Deri attempting to mediate compromise between fired defense minister and Netanyahu, as premier weighs other potential candidates for post, including Barkat, reports say

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is considering apologizing for the timing of his statement against the government’s push to overhaul the judiciary, as part of a compromise aimed at keeping him in his post, according to Wednesday reports.

Gallant on Saturday night called for the contentious legislative process to be suspended, citing the security consequences of the proposals.

The following day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that Gallant was being fired, setting off massive nationwide protests. Under intense pressure, Netanyahu paused the legislative push, as Gallant had sought, on Monday.

Gallant is still serving as defense minister, with no official notice of termination yet handed to him.

Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri and other coalition figures have been encouraging Netanyahu to reverse the decision to fire Gallant, and Deri has been mediating between the two, according to Hebrew media reports.

Deri and Gallant met on Wednesday to talk about a compromise deal with Netanyahu that would keep Gallant in his position, according to the Walla news site and the Kan public broadcaster.

Gallant is open to apologizing for the timing of his statement against the legislation, without walking back the substance of his warning about security threats, the reports said.

Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a Shas party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gallant called for the legislative halt while Netanyahu was visiting the UK, warning that the rift over the judicial shakeup was “penetrating the IDF and security agencies” and posing “a clear, immediate, and tangible threat to the security of the state.”

Before the trip, Gallant had pressured Netanyahu to pause the legislation, and the premier had reportedly asked Gallant for a few days to work out a solution.

Netanyahu is reported to have been incensed by Gallant’s decision to hold his press conference after previously telling Netanyahu he would wait on it, and without coordinating it with the premier.

Responding to the reports, opposition National Unity leader Benny Gantz said Thursday that “any other coalition member who gets the position will become a defense minister with an asterisk. I call on all members of the coalition not to accept the position that would harm security and give a gift to our enemies.”

The head of the Labor party, Merav Michaeli, urged Gallant to “keep to his values” and not apologize.

“If there’s someone who needs to apologize for their irresponsible conduct in Gallant’s firing — it’s Netanyahu, not Gallant,” she said, adding that the defense minister had issued his warning “at just the right time.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gallant’s future, and questions about a possible successor for defense minister, have been up in the air since Netanyahu announced his removal.

Netanyahu on Wednesday met with Economy Minister Nir Barkat, who is seen as a potential candidate for the job.

A spokesman for Barkat said that he will “take what the prime minister bestows upon him.”

Netanyahu has previously sought to sideline Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem and tech tycoon, relegating him to relatively minor roles in the past.

Economy Minister Nir Barkat speaks during a conference in Haifa, March 21, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Netanyahu was also considering a number of other leading Likud members for the role, including Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter and Energy Minister Israel Katz, reports said.

Netanyahu has held talks with Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief, who had been seen as the leading candidate to replace Gallant.

Netanyahu is however reluctant to appoint Dichter, according to a Wednesday Channel 12 report. Netanyahu is concerned Dichter would not be on board with plans for a strike against Iran, the report said.

Dichter also appeared to rule himself out of the running earlier Wednesday by issuing a statement calling to find a way to reinstate Gallant.

Leaving Gallant in his position would likely be opposed by some members of the coalition who advocated for Gallant’s dismissal, arguing that the defense minister’s decision to call for a legislative pause was a capitulation to military reservists who refused to serve until the judicial makeover was suspended.

Gallant issued his warning about Israel’s security as the number of reservists protesting the legislation grew, and as Israel’s ties with other countries, including the US, deteriorated due to the legislation and other government policies.

A protest outside the Knesset against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In a closed meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs committee on Monday, Gallant reportedly revealed intelligence information indicating that due to internal schisms over the now-paused overhaul, Israel’s regional security was at risk, particularly due to a potential weakening of US support, the Ynet news outlet reported.

“We are in a serious and unprecedented crisis,” Gallant was quoted as telling the committee.

Israel-US ties took another blow on Tuesday, when US President Joe Biden said, of the planned radical judicial overhaul and the well-being of Israeli democracy, that Israel “cannot continue down this road,” and that Netanyahu would not be invited to the White House in the “near term.”

The comments, apparently also prompted in part by concern over the firing of Gallant, were seen as a major crisis for Israel’s standing with the US, although the dispute appeared to have cooled on Wednesday with a message of praise for Netanyahu from the White House.

Domestic tensions surrounding the judicial shakeup have eased somewhat since Netanyahu announced the legislative freeze and the government and opposition started negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise on the issue.

The plan to curtain the judiciary remains a ticking time bomb, though, as protest leaders believe the government still intends to go through with the legislation, and is only biding its time.

Israel’s attorney general has warned that the package of legislation — which would give the coalition almost complete control over all judicial appointments, and radically constrain the High Court — would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights or for Israel’s democratic character.

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