Knesset wraps winter session, shifting judicial battleground to President’s Residence

With parliament on break, focus is fully on overhaul negotiations and protests until legislature returns on April 30; 28 new laws passed in 3 months

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset will wrap its winter session on Sunday afternoon, marking three turbulent months for the government, overshadowed by the coalition’s highly divisive efforts to weaken the judicial system.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted key overhaul legislation hours before it was set to become law last Monday, he and his coalition have vowed to resume their progress when the Knesset returns on April 30.

In the interim, focus fully shifted to the President’s Residence, where President Isaac Herzog continues to facilitate dialogue between the coalition’s negotiation team and representatives from opposition parties.

On Sunday, MK Chili Tropper, a member of the opposition party National Unity’s negotiating team, told Army Radio that he believed parties to the talks were more in favor of a compromise than against. However, his statement came just two days after Channel 12 reported that dialogue among the various opposition and coalition positions had stalled before it even began, stuck on the issue of whether or not the coalition could grant itself control over judicial appointments.

In addition to ongoing anti-overhaul protests, supporters of the plan have said they will rally to show their backing of the legislation with increasing frequency.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who was against postponing the legislation to the next Knesset session, said in messages reported by Channel 12 last week that there are plans to increase demonstrations in support of the overhaul during the April break. The rallies would be in anticipation of a bill that would give the coalition control over key judicial appointments.

On Thursday, about 20,000 supporters gathered in Tel Aviv to back the government in its efforts.

On Saturday evening, almost ten times that number gathered at the same Tel Aviv intersection to rally against the coalition’s legislation.

Police deploy a water cannon on Israelis occupying a main highway to protest plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

After 13 weeks of demonstrations, anti-overhaul protest leaders have vowed to continue their efforts, demanding that instead of pausing the legislative push to weaken the courts and politicize judge selection, the coalition shelve the bills completely.

Recusal shield, settlements, US visas

While the judicial overhaul drew most of the legislative attention during the short winter session, Knesset also passed 28 new laws, and advanced 57 bills through their first reading and 79 through their preliminary readings, according to coalition whip MK Ofir Katz of Likud.

Among the new laws passed by the Knesset since the start of the year are a law that shields a prime minister from being forced to take a leave of absence, amid fears that the High Court of Justice could force Netanyahu to recuse himself due to an apparent conflict of interest in overseeing a coalition shaking up the judiciary while under agreement not to touch any policy or appointment that may affect his ongoing corruption trials.

Additionally, the coalition dramatically shifted West Bank policy, repealing parts of a law that authorized the evacuation of four northern West Bank settlements in 2005, a move carried out in parallel to Israel’s 2005 unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers block the entrance to the illegal Homesh outpost, in the northern West Bank, May 28, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The repeal drew condemnation from the United States, which said it was “provocative and counterproductive.”

The Knesset also passed a law to strip citizenship and residency from convicted terrorists if they are compensated — even indirectly — by the Palestinian Authority for their crime. Garnering broad, cross-Knesset support, Arab parties attacked the law as “racist,” as it was tailored to only apply to Palestinian, and not Jewish, terrorists.

In addition, the Knesset last week finalized legislation required to make Israel eligible to join the United States Visa Waiver Program. Although there are several other hurdles to cross, including resolving United States demands that Palestinian Americans would not receive disparate treatment when attempting to enter Israel, Netanyahu said last week that he hopes to complete the process by September.

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