ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Gantz on Liberman's remarks: 'I don’t know what he knows'

Liberman claims opposition will fold in judicial talks, predicts deal by Wednesday

Yisrael Beytenu party head, who has sat out overhaul negotiations, asserts fellow opposition parties will back some coalition demands in return for spot on panel that picks judges

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman at a Knesset faction meeting on June 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman at a Knesset faction meeting on June 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman said Monday that he believes fellow opposition parties will give in to certain coalition demands in the ongoing judicial overhaul talks, in exchange for securing a representative on the panel that selects judges.

Liberman, who has stayed out of the negotiations that President Isaac Herzog is brokering, predicted that both sides will confirm the agreement on Wednesday, after the Knesset votes to appoint two lawmakers to the panel.

“I personally intend to do everything possible to stop this,” he said during a faction meeting in the Knesset.

In line with statements by coalition negotiators and media reports, Liberman predicted the agreement would curtail the authority of government ministry legal advisers and the court’s ability to apply the judicial test of reasonableness. But he called these a “smokescreen” meant to obfuscate what he claimed was the true “core” of the deal — the return of Shas party chief Aryeh Deri as a minister despite his multiple corruption convictions.

“I really hope they come to their senses and don’t lend a hand to this,” Liberman said, in reference to fellow opposition party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, “because when Deri returns to Netanyahu’s government, it will be a significant boost for Netanyahu’s Haredi-messianic coalition.”

The High Court of Justice disqualified Deri’s appointment as health and interior minister earlier this year, citing them as “unreasonable in the extreme” in light of the ultra-Orthodox party chief’s past criminal convictions, including one from last year. They also invoked the principle of estoppel, which prohibits parties to legal suits from changing claims in different proceedings, ruling that Deri misled a lower court about his intention to leave politics after his most recent conviction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Minister of the Interior and Health Aryeh Deri (left) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (right) during the swearing in ceremony of the new government, at the Knesset, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Part of the government’s far-reaching plans to change the judicial system could potentially allow Deri to return as a minister, but those have been on hold since late March when Netanyahu paused the entire legislative push to allow for the negotiations amid nationwide mass protests and growing public opposition to the overhaul.

The talks have yet to yield any breakthroughs, and the coalition has faced increased internal pressure to legislate the proposed changes. Opposition parties taking part in the negotiations have similarly faced calls to withdraw from them, with Liberman and other government opponents accusing the coalition of acting in bad faith.

Liberman argued Monday that even with a judicial reform deal, the coalition will continue its efforts to further curb judicial power.

“There is no doubt that Netanyahu will legislate the laws desired by [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin,” he said, referring to the leading architect of the proposed shakeup.

Liberman — a once close Netanyahu ally who fell out with him in 2019 and has become a staunch critic — ruled out joining a coalition led by Netanyahu. The remark appeared to be a reversal from his comment over the weekend that he would sit in a Netanyahu-led government if the premier ditched his Haredi and far-right allies.

“No one pushed him. This is the option he chose,” Liberman said of Netanyahu’s choice of Haredi and far-right coalition partners.

The former finance and defense minister also claimed Israel resembled Lebanon before its road to political collapse.

“If we don’t change the trend, within four years we’re on the same path,” he said.

Liberman said he planned to meet later in the week with Herzog and to also hold talks with Gantz and Lapid.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid (left) and National Unity party leader Benny Gantz meet in the Knesset on May 10, 2023. (Courtesy)

Speaking after Liberman, Gantz denied opposition representatives to the negotiations were ready to trade a piecemeal judicial agreement for a spot on the Judicial Selection Committee, which traditionally includes a coalition and opposition MK but could have two coalition lawmakers instead.

“I don’t know of any deal,” Gantz said at his National Unity party’s faction meeting. “I don’t know what Liberman based his remarks on, I don’t know what he knows.”

“There’s one simple formula for us to continue the talks: Choose a coalition representative and an opposition representative to the Judicial Selection Committee,” Gantz declared.

There was no response from Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is also taking part in the judicial talks. Yesh Atid canceled its weekly faction meeting due to Lapid’s testimony Monday in Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial.

Coalition leaders also did not immediately react.

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 negotiations at the President’s Residence and the vote on the Knesset’s representatives on the Judicial Selection Committee have become increasingly interlinked in recent weeks, with opposition chiefs pledging to break off the talks if they do not receive a spot on the panel or if the government advances the overhaul legislation.

Some coalition members, including Levin, have advocated for retaining both spots on the Judicial Selection Committee, which would buck the custom of reserving one of the seats for an opposition lawmaker — though that custom was also disregarded by the Netanyahu-Gantz government several years ago. Control of the committee is central to the government’s plans for overhauling the judiciary.

However, reports Sunday indicated Netanyahu was likely to support appointing an opposition MK.

The coalition’s representative on the panel is expected to be MK Yitzhak Kroizer, whose far-right Otzma Yehudit party was promised a place on the nine-member committee in its coalition deal with Netanyahu’s Likud. The opposition is backing Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharrar.

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