Likud’s Edelstein says judicial overhaul won’t pass without compromise

Netanyahu ally/rival cites past experience in predicting that sides will back off stubborn positions, negotiating plan that will win wide purchase beyond just 64-MK ruling majority

MK Yuli Edelstein attends a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Yuli Edelstein attends a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The governing coalition’s controversial judicial overhaul plan will not pass without lawmakers holding talks and compromising on it, Likud stalwart Yuli Edelstein said in remarks that aired Thursday.

Edelstein’s comments, which came amid an intense and growing public backlash to the government’s plans to rein in the judiciary, marked a rare admission from a party colleague of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that lawmakers will be willing to negotiate and make changes to the reform proposal laid out earlier this month by Justice Minister Yariv Levin.

“In a week or two or three, after everyone has proven yet again that they won’t compromise on anything and won’t back down or give a centimeter, after all that everyone will calm down and start to talk,” Edelstein said in an interview to Channel 12 news, citing past experience.

A former Knesset speaker and staunch Netanyahu ally, Edelstein has seen his political star fall somewhat in recent years after first giving up his job to delay Netanyahu transferring power to Lapid in 2021 and then announcing he would seek to unseat Netanyahu as Likud leader before backing off those plans in June. Also a former health minister, his aborted challenge to Netanyahu led to him being overlooked for ministerial office in the current coalition, where he serves as head of the important Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

While a smattering of coalition lawmakers have entertained the possibility of compromise, often in guarded, anonymous comments to the media, most have largely ignored calls by the opposition, President Isaac Herzog and others to negotiate over the contours of the overhaul plan. Considered one of the more moderate forces in the party, Edelstein had until now stayed mum on the controversial overhaul proposal.

As presented by Levin, the coalition’s proposals would severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, with an “override clause,” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Critics, who have staged a series of large protests, say the changes will gut the courts, leave minority rights unprotected and concentrate too much power in the hands of the ruling coalition. Proponents say the current system gives unelected judges and lawyers too much power over elected officials.

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with incoming Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There will be talks, there will be wide agreement and not 61 or 64 Knesset members supporting what comes out of it,” Edelstein told the channel, which aired a shortened version of a full interview scheduled to be broadcast Friday.

Earlier this week, Channel 12 reported that Levin was dead-set against any compromise, though had feigned willingness to talk in order to calm protests and buy himself time to prepare the legislation. At the same time, he was said to possibly be game for minor changes.

Some members of the opposition have expressed openness to some of Levin’s proposals in principle, such as a way for the Knesset to overrule the High Court, but have sought to moderate some of the ideas, for instance by requiring a super-majority to bypass the court.

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, January 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid has called for negotiations over the proposals, which he said should be handled by an independent panel, and urged Herzog to set up a presidential committee on the issue. National Unity party leader Benny Gantz has also indicated he is open to talks over the moves. Other opposition members, such as Labor party head Merav Michaeli and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, have rejected any possible compromise.

Edelstein refused to say outright if he would still vote with the coalition should it avoid making significant concessions.

“I’m telling you, the right way to do this is with wide agreement, certainly through compromise,” he said.

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