Herzog’s office holding another session of overhaul compromise talks

Teams from coalition, opposition’s Yesh Atid and National Unity parties meet at President’s Residence for negotiations that have been widely predicted to fail

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, left, during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, left, during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

Negotiations between the government and opposition aimed at compromising on the coalition’s contentious judicial overhaul legislation were resuming on Monday, President Isaac Herzog’s office said.

The talks were to be held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem between working teams from the coalition, and the opposition’s Yesh Atid and National Unity parties. The meeting will begin at 11 a.m., the president’s office said on Sunday.

Herzog began hosting the talks last week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to temporarily halt the government’s push to upend the judicial system following widespread protests. Public outcry had peaked after Netanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, upon the minister’s warning about the security implications of the coalition’s proposals.

Herzog has long pleaded for compromise, and has asked the sides to approach the talks in good faith, but the negotiations are widely expected to fail.

Protest leaders and some opposition figures have said they believe the government still intends to pass the full judicial package and is only holding the talks to quell opposition to the plan. The opposition and its supporters are also deeply distrustful of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has in the past violated keystone political promises.

Some of the negotiators themselves reportedly believe the talks are dead on arrival, since during the early discussions, the coalition has insisted it end up with control of the Judicial Selection Committee, a non-starter for the opposition.

Coalition lawmakers have also said the legislation will proceed as planned once the Knesset starts its summer session, fueling claims that the talks were being used as a fig leaf.

“As Prime Minister Netanyahu said, the reform has only been paused and there is a very clear date for the next session. Right after Independence Day, we will continue with the legislation,” Transportation Minister Miri Regev of Likud said Sunday.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin said Wednesday he would resume efforts to pass the hard-right coalition’s judicial overhaul after the Knesset’s Passover recess.

President Isaac Herzog hosts delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity for judicial negotiations at his residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The two sides met for negotiations at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for around an hour and a half on Friday.

Herzog urged the coalition and opposition to give the negotiations a chance to succeed, despite the lack of trust and animosity between the two sides.

“I am aware that the walls of suspicion are high. I know that unfortunately there is hostility and mistrust,” he said in a statement. “But it is important that we take a deep breath, look at the reality and give the negotiation process a real chance. Our country is dear to all of us.”

Roughly two dozen negotiators are participating in the discussion, with a team of Likud representatives attending on the coalition’s behalf while the Yesh Atid, National Unity, Labor and Ra’am opposition parties each sent their own teams of negotiators. Members of the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al alliance party met with Herzog and told him they have “no trust” in the pause declared by Netanyahu, citing “past experience.”

Israelis protest plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

In its original form, the judicial overhaul legislation aims to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges.

Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

The attorney general has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights or for Israel’s democratic character.

Protesters have rallied against the plans for 13 weeks, including in a mass demonstration on Saturday, after Netanyahu announced a pause to the legislation.

Other government policies, including Netanyahu granting far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir his own national guard unit, have further fueled the unrest. Netanyahu is widely seen as having approved the national guard last week in exchange for Ben Gvir supporting the legislative pause.

Polls have repeatedly shown that the government legislation in its current form is broadly unpopular with the public.

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