Talks mediated by Herzog said to renew after Gantz remarks

Gantz says he will accept a judicial overhaul compromise that ‘preserves democracy’

Netanyahu reportedly to announce ‘unilateral softening’ of overhaul in bid to head off confrontation with High Court and present an accomplishment ahead of US visit

Then-defense minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a consultation during Hamas rocket fire at Israel and IDF counterstrikes, May 11, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO / File)
Then-defense minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a consultation during Hamas rocket fire at Israel and IDF counterstrikes, May 11, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO / File)

Leading opposition figure Benny Gantz said Monday that he would be willing to accept a compromise deal on the judicial overhaul if it “preserved democracy,” amid reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to announce a “unilateral softening” of the legislation in a bid to head off a confrontation with the High Court.

However, Gantz reiterated his call from last week, when he rejected fresh talks with Netanyahu, for the prime minister to first prove he has the political support from his hardline coalition necessary to compromise.

“I’m not interested in Netanyahu’s motivations,” said Gantz, speaking at a conference at Reichman University. “If there is a solution placed on the table that will preserve democracy, I will be there.”

Netanyahu, he added, would have to “first prove his intentions and ability to stand behind his proposals or any proposal he receives.”

Gantz, head of the National Unity party, also called on Netanyahu to publicly commit to accepting the High Court’s ruling on the reasonableness law — the first and so far only piece of overhaul legislation passed by the government — “no matter what.”

Gantz’s comments came amid a flurry of reports on Hebrew news sites that Netanyahu is planning to announce a “unilateral softening” of the overhaul, a day before an unprecedented full 15-member High Court bench is set to hear petitions against the “reasonableness” law, a move that could provoke a constitutional crisis, as the government has signaled it could defy the court if it moves to strike down the law.

Netanyahu was said to be inclining toward a unilateral approach after pledging to proceed in the coming Knesset session with legislation to remake the process by which Israel chooses its judges, and after months of failed talks with the opposition. Opposition leaders, including Gantz, last week rebuffed a new call from the prime minister for talks as “spin,” and noted that Netanyahu does not have the support of his hardline coalition for compromise.

A report by Channel 12 news said following Gantz’s remarks, talks that the President’s Residence has mediated between the sides were renewed. The network, without citing a source, said Netanyahu wanted to exhaust the negotiations before the coalition moves ahead on its own.

According to the reports Monday, Netanyahu has been holding a series of meetings with overhaul architect Justice Minister Yariv Levin in an attempt to reach an agreement with him. Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer — who has been Netanyahu’s point man in the talks — and Shas chief Aryeh Deri also took part.

Levin has repeatedly refused to compromise on the overhaul and reportedly threatened to topple the government if Netanyahu waters it down. The heads of the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties have also rejected compromise.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Minister of Justice Yariv Levin during a government conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023.(Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu was said in some reports to broadly favor a proposal presented by Herzog’s office to both sides last week. Army Radio, however, said his office was pressing Herzog to endorse the unilateral proposal he intends to unveil.

The framework of the Herzog agreement would reportedly see the government advance a “softer” version of the recently passed law voiding the reasonableness standard for cabinet and ministerial decisions; an 18-month freeze on efforts to reshape the Judicial Selection Committee; and a requirement of seven out of nine members of the Judicial Selection Committee for all appointments, including the Supreme Court president.

Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu and Levin were divided over the Judicial Selection Committee. Levin was said to still be insisting on changing the composition of the panel to give the coalition control.

The Haaretz daily also reported that Levin objected to softening the “reasonableness” law.

Last week Levin openly dismissed Herzog’s framework, saying “it is impossible to agree to the new compromise proposal.”

“[The proposal] does not change the basic thing that is required — changing the committee for selecting judges,” said Levin.

Netanyahu’s primary aim, according to the Hebrew media reports, is to be able to present his intentions to modify the law in the hope that it would prevent the High Court from overturning the law as it currently stands.

President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut and Supreme Court justices at the High Court in Jerusalem hear petitions against the so-called ‘Tiberias law,’ on July 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday, three government ministers, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, stressed that High Court of Justice rulings must be respected.

The pledges to heed any ruling by the top court followed Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana’s speech last week suggesting the coalition may not do so, in which he warned that a court ruling nullifying the reasonableness law could “plunge us into the abyss” and vowed that the Knesset “won’t submissively allow itself to be trampled.”

Netanyahu later posted the remarks by Ohana, a Likud member, on social media. The premier has previously been noncommittal when pressed directly on whether he would accept a High Court judgment invalidating the legislation.

Channel 12 said Netanyahu was also eager to present progress on the overhaul before his trip next week to the US.

For Netanyahu, the trip to the US will be his first since taking office again in December as the head of a hardline government. US President Joe Biden has resisted inviting him to the White House and will only meet him on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York.

The White House has repeatedly expressed disapproval of many statements and policies emanating from members of Netanyahu’s hardline government, as well as its judicial overhaul plan, which has roiled the country.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid speaks during a conference in Tel Aviv on September 10, 2023. (Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Sunday cautioned that Netanyahu would present a “too good to be true” offer ahead of the court hearing and his trip to the US.

“The purpose [of the proposed compromise] is not to reach a consensus but to raise difficulties for the justices as they discuss the petitions,” Lapid said at a conference on social justice in Tel Aviv.

Herzog hosted months of compromise talks between coalition and opposition figures earlier this year, which were indefinitely halted in June, due to a fight over electing MKs to the Judicial Selection Committee.

The overhaul plan has faced months of mass protests alongside warnings from economic and legal figures who say it will damage the country. Opponents have organized weekly demonstrations and strikes while thousands of reserve soldiers have said they will stop performing their duties if legislation continues to advance.

Supporters of the overhaul say it is necessary to rein in an overly activist judiciary.

Most Popular
read more: