Judicial fight is ‘source of pride for the country,’ says Herzog

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Herzog expresses optimism that a broad compromise will be found, but says there are no shortcuts

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the 2023 Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023  (Gilad Kavalerchik)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at the 2023 Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023 (Gilad Kavalerchik)

President Isaac Herzog expressed optimism on Monday about the ongoing domestic fight over the government’s proposed judicial reform, calling it “a source of pride for our country.”

Opening the 2023 Herzliya Conference at Reichman University, Herzog said the months-long political battle is an “opportunity.”

“If we reach agreements, we can only imagine how it will strengthen the state, and how it will allow us to reach another 75 years,” said the president.

Since Justice Minister Yariv Levin first announced his plan to reduce the power of judiciary in relation to the other branches in January, the judicial overhaul has become Israel’s biggest political, economic, and social lightning rod. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a pause to the legislation in late March, after weeks of massive protests, to allow time for negotiations.

Herzog also praised the representatives from the Netanyahu-led government and the opposition, who have been negotiating at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“These discussions are very serious, are very comprehensive,” he insisted. “People are giving of themselves and come with good intentions to the room.”

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

The talks will not take place this week, Herzog’s office confirmed on Sunday.

Leaders “feel bound by the need to reach broad understandings,” but there are no shortcuts to a solution, he added.

“It’s a process that touches on the root of our functioning as a democratic society that is multicultural, that is also the national home of the Jewish people,” said Herzog. “That process takes time.  No one is dragging their feet. No one is wasting time.”

Herzog predicted that a compromise would eventually be found: “The parameters are very, very, clear, but demand deep and meaningful deliberations. I am optimistic.”

Israelis protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on April 1, 2023. The banner at right reads: “It’s vital to safeguard the common home”; the banner at center reads: “Freedom, equality, kinship.” (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Despite nearly two months of ongoing talks between teams representing the coalition and the opposition’s two biggest parties, no tangible progress has been made, according to sources close to the issue.

Turning to Israel’s foreign policy, Herzog declined to comment on Netanyahu not receiving an invitation to visit US President Joe Biden.

He did stress the magnitude of a potential agreement with Saudi Arabia, one that both Israel and Washington have repeatedly expressed interested in bringing about.

“Negotiations and a diplomatic breakthrough with Saudi Arabia is extraordinarily important, with a huge influence on the regional balance,” said Herzog.

He also warned about Iran’s malign regional influence, especially backing terrorist groups in Gaza. Israel fought a five-day campaign against Iranian proxy Palestinian Islamic Jihad earlier this month.

Palestinians celebrate the announcement of a ceasefire after five days of fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza City, Saturday, May 13, 2023.(AP/Fatima Shbair)

“As long as Iran stands behind [PIJ], and pushes its proxies in the region, then you have a serious, strategic problem,” he said. “We cannot ignore it, we cannot bury our heads in the sand.”

Herzog offered a pessimistic view of the prospects for a breakthrough with the Palestinians.

“The Palestinian nation is divided,” said the president. “There are two authorities. There is a process of political stagnation and a process of waiting for the next generation.

“It doesn’t release Israel from what it needs to do, but you must remember, when there is a society that extols and sanctifies terrorism, it is extremely complicated. You expect first of all that your interlocutor will do all it can to counter-terrorism.”

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