Herzog meets with opposition factions for 2nd day of talks on judiciary

After skipping out first day of talks, Labor says it came to table to ensure ‘the overthrow laws don’t come back’; president also meets with representatives of Ra’am, Hadash-Ta’al

In this handout photo, President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of the Labor party at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, March 29, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
In this handout photo, President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of the Labor party at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, March 29, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog met Wednesday with representatives of several opposition factions as negotiations on the government’s plans to radically remake the judicial system entered a second day.

Herzog held talks with Labor, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al, marking the latest round of meetings since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced a pause on the coalition’s legislative push in the face of mounting nationwide opposition to the overhaul.

None of those parties were present for Tuesday’s meetings at the President’s Residence. Labor and fellow opposition faction Yisrael Beytenu had expressed doubts that Netanyahu’s Likud faction was committed to negotiating in good faith.

“We came to make sure, from the inside, that the judicial overthrow laws do not come back to the Knesset through the back door,” Labor said in a statement after the meeting.

Labor said its conditions for any agreement included “constitutional protection of human rights” and ensuring the judiciary’s independence. It also called to “completely shelve the judicial overthrow proposals.”

Explaining its decision to take part in the talks, Labor called itself “the gatekeeper of democratic value[s]” and met with Herzog in this capacity.

“We will make sure to conduct ourselves with complete transparency, as we have done so far, and to be in continuous and comprehensive dialogue with the leaders of the public protest, civil society and legal and political science experts,” the party said.

In this handout photo, President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of the Ra’am party at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 29, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas told an Arabic radio station that his Islamist party would leave the talks if members feel their participation is only for show as a figleaf.

Hadash-Ta’al, an alliance of two predominantly Arab parties, said it told Herzog that it has “no trust” in the pause declared by Netanyahu, citing “past experience.”

“We oppose the transparent efforts to hinder the protests,” it said in a statement. “This is the time to establish full democracy and equality and not to suffice with returning to the status quo.”

Yisrael Beytenu meanwhile continued to stay away from the talks, which the right-wing secularist party’s leader Avigdor Liberman reiterated he believes are a “scam” by Netanyahu and his right-religious coalition.

Liberman leveled the charge after Justice Minister Yariv Levin pledged to resume efforts to pass the judicial legislation following the Knesset’s upcoming Passover recess. Levin, the No. 2 in Likud and a leading figure in the planned revamp of the judiciary, told a supporter that the coalition would organize nationwide rallies “to show what the majority of the public wants.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called for Netanyahu to declare that Levin’s remarks do not reflect his own views.

“The justice minister is saying that the negotiations at the President’s Residence are a fraud,” Lapid tweeted.

He later told Channel 12 news that he and others were approaching the talks warily.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The talks opened on Tuesday with delegations representing Likud, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and the opposition National Unity party meeting with Herzog. The first day of meetings did not address the substance of potential reform, instead focusing on the mechanism for negotiations. Channel 12 reported that it was also aimed at fostering a friendly atmosphere more conducive to talks than the fiery, combative rhetoric the sides have employed against each other publicly for weeks.

Tensions around the shakeup have eased considerably since the announcement of the legislative halt on Monday, a day after Netanyahu dismissed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for publicly urging a freeze, but the issue remains a ticking time bomb domestically as well as in the diplomatic arena.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden spoke out against the reform for the first time, calling on Netanyahu to reverse course. The Israeli premier swiftly rejected the remarks as meddling in Israel’s affairs and on Wednesday dismissed concerns over the planned overhaul while saying he’s determined to reach a consensus as he addressed the US State Department’s Summit for Democracy.

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