Several Likud MKs indicate they may not back more overhaul laws without consensus

Eli Dellal say he won’t support further overhaul legislation without broad public backing; Yuli Edelstein says cases of hardline lawmakers vetoing compromises are ‘over’

Composite photo, left to right: MK Eli Dellal at the Knesset in April2023; MK Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in July 2023; MK David Bitan at the Knesset in July 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Composite photo, left to right: MK Eli Dellal at the Knesset in April2023; MK Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in July 2023; MK David Bitan at the Knesset in July 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several Likud lawmakers indicated Friday they will no longer allow the coalition to bulldoze further judicial overhaul laws through the legislature — with two of them speaking openly, and others reportedly expressing similar sentiments.

MK Eli Dellal, noting this week’s Tisha B’Av day of fast, said that this was “a week of introspection, a week in which we must learn from the lessons of the past and the destruction of the Temples.

“Out of hope of healing the terrible rift in Israeli society, in light of the many challenges and with the good of Israeli and the unity of the Israeli people before my eyes, I hereby announce that I will support only steps achieved under broad public consensus.”

MK Yuli Edelstein, head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said in excerpts from an interview to be broadcast Saturday that he will no longer allow hardline coalition members to hijack the legislative agenda.

“I may have fallen asleep a bit while on guard,” Edelstein told Channel 12’s Meet the Press, apparently referring to moderates in the government. “I’m not afraid to acknowledge a mistake.”

But, he said, “This thing where any time there’s a compromise [on offer] someone in the coalition vetoes it or makes threats — that’s over.” And, he added, “From now on I will be consulted on what is being brought to a vote and how. If not, then apparently they don’t need my vote.”

Channel 13’s political correspondent said Likud MK David Bitan was also expected to take a similar position. Bitan was quoted by the network as having said this week that “We will no longer allow one person to decide. We’ll be involved in the next stages.”

Bitan reportedly added that he saw no reason to take a stand against the “reasonableness” law that passed this week and curbs the courts’ ability to review cabinet and ministerial decisions. “It’s nothing. The court will find how to bypass the reasonableness standard with other standards. There was no reason to fight over it.”

An unidentified Likud minister also told Channel 13 that the green light Justice Minister Yariv Levin has had from his party to unilaterally block compromise proposals was over. The minister told the network that others in Likud feel the same way.

And Ynet reported that Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel has told associates that Levin “sold out Likud in the coalition agreements. Now he gets automatic support from [the far-right’s Itamar] Ben Gvir and regularly threatens to break up the government.

“His threats against Netanyahu necessitate that we advance a broad unity government. That’s the correct course of action at this time.”

Channel 12’s political commentator Amit Segal also assessed that there were at least four coalition MKs who would not support aggressive unilateral legislation going forward, potentially leaving the 64-seat coalition struggling to muster a majority for such moves.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (right) argue across Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on July 24, 2023, ahead of the vote on the reasonableness law. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Reacting to Friday’s comments, Ben Gvir said Friday: “Maybe some have forgotten, we haven’t forgotten — the people chose right-wing.”

All Likud Knesset members, together with all other coalition members, voted for the reasonableness law on Monday, barring judicial review of government and ministerial decisions on the grounds of their reasonableness.

Netanyahu made plain in US media interviews on Thursday that he intends to move ahead with further elements of the overhaul legislative package. “I couldn’t get anything from the opposition and therefore decided to proceed with this minor correction,” Netanyahu said.

“I’ll try to proceed, if not with a consensus with the opposition, the other side of the political aisle in our parliament, then at least at something that has broad acceptance in the public,” he added. “I’m actually more optimistic now than I was before. Now they can see that we’re prepared to move without them, we have the majority, maybe we’ll be able to move with them.”

Channel 13 reported that Netanyahu has told associates that he only plans to advance one more piece of overhaul legislation before shelving the rest of the package entirely. But the bill he wants to advance is reportedly the one that would give the coalition near-absolute control over the Judicial Selection Committee — arguably the most far-reaching piece of legislation from the overhaul package.

Netanyahu has said he wants the coalition to pass the bill during the next session of parliament but is also open to negotiations with the opposition in the meantime. However, if no agreements are reached, Netanyahu has indicated that the coalition will again move forward unilaterally.

In the coalition, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is also seen as a voice for moderation. Gallant made a failed last-ditch call for a compromise on the first piece of the government’s overhaul legislation, the “reasonableness” bill, which was approved by the Knesset Monday.

The coalition’s proposals have ignited sustained, mass public protests and opposition from military personnel, business leaders, foreign allies and others.

Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday, without citing sources, that Gallant is considering trying to arrange the formation of a unity government with opposition party leaders Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Benny Gantz of National Unity to ease the rift in society caused by the coalition’s judicial overhaul plans.

Gallant has concluded that Lapid and Gantz must urgently be brought into the fold, while National Security Minister Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — contentious figures in the cabinet who lead the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties, respectively — should be booted from the coalition, the report said.

According to the report by veteran columnist Nahum Barnea, Gallant is willing to give up being defense minister in order to make such an arrangement work.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In interviews on Channel 13 to be aired fully on Saturday, Likud ministers Ofir Akunis and Miki Zohar called on Lapid and Gantz to join the government. But both said the parties would need to accept the right-wing principles on which the current government was established.

Gantz’s Blue and White party partnered with Netanyahu in a short-lived 2020 unity government, while Lapid took his Yesh Atid to the opposition, refusing to collaborate with the Likud party leader due to his ongoing corruption trial. But Netanyahu went on to break his agreements with Gallant and the dysfunctional government soon collapsed. Gantz has since said that Netanyahu has expended all of his political capital with him.

Gallant has been particularly concerned over military reservists who are refusing to carry out their volunteer duties. The military warned on Tuesday that its combat readiness may soon be harmed if thousands of reservist troops in key positions, especially pilots, do not show up for duty over a lengthy period of time.

Gallant in late March publicly warned that the rift over the overhaul was causing divides in the military that posed a tangible threat to Israeli security. In response to that televised warning, Netanyahu ordered Gallant’s firing, a move that sparked intensified national protests, in turn leading Netanyahu to temporarily suspend the legislation for three months and withdraw Gallant’s dismissal.

Akunis also said Friday it was time the government convened the country’s Judicial Selection Committee — which Levin has refused to do until he can bring it under coalition control. Akunis told 100FM Radio that even if the committee does not deal with Supreme Court appointments for now, it can at least review candidates for lower courts to fill a growing number of vacancies in the system.

Senior members of Likud told Ynet Friday that the coalition should only pass further overhaul laws in agreements with the opposition, instead of unilaterally.

“We mustn’t allow Levin to unilaterally legislate as he plans to in the next [Knesset] session,” one unnamed senior party official said, adding that Netanyahu and his associates understand that the bills are causing a great deal of damage.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a cabinet in Jerusalem on May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We need to break with Ben Gvir and all the extremist actors in the coalition that only cause damage to Likud,” an unnamed Likud minister told the site.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter on Friday slammed “thugs” on both sides of the judicial overhaul debate, comparing them to military officers who, on the eve of a surprise attack by Israel’s neighbors on Yom Kippur in 1973, didn’t believe Israel could be threatened despite intelligence warnings.

“Exactly like Yom Kippur in 1973, conceptual thugs put the security of the country in a lot of danger. Today, there are thugs that are endangering the country by dragging it into extreme legislation, or by propelling it into extreme and violent protest,” Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency, wrote in a Facebook post.

“‘Thugs’ don’t have to be a massive force, they use force en masse: physical power, financial power, economic and business power,” said Dichter, who voted in support of the “reasonableness” law on Monday along with all 63 other members of the coalition.

“The sane people from both sides, who are the overwhelming majority, are against the thugs on all sides, who are a minority that want an explosion,” he said, adding: “Together we will win.”

Michael Horovitz contributed to this report.

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