Netanyahu to reportedly face ultimatum from coalition if overhaul negotiations fail

Coalition source tells Israeli TV that premier’s bloc will threaten to abandon him if he doesn’t advance some form of judicial shakeup in absence of compromise agreement

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Thursday’s rally in support of the judicial overhaul provided a shot in the arm to coalition lawmakers determined to advance the currently suspended initiative, the Likud-backed protest could well put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an even thornier position as he seeks to reach a deal with the opposition on reforming the judiciary.

Channel 12 on Friday cited a coalition source who said that if the  negotiations with the opposition fail, the premier will face an ultimatum at the end of the Knesset’s summer session from his own ruling bloc, which will threaten to abandon him if he does not advance some form of judicial shakeup. Netanyahu will then be forced to choose between his electoral base or those in Israel and abroad warning of the overhaul’s implications in the security, economic and legal fields.

“After yesterday’s huge show of force, it will be much more difficult for Netanyahu to quash the [overhaul] legislation,” the source told Channel 12, referring to the crowd size at Thursday’s rally, which was estimated at around 200,000.

The Kan public broadcaster quoted a source close to Netanyahu who said he was enthusiastic about the crowd size at the Jerusalem rally but recognizes that he’ll now have to “give something” both to Justice Minister Yariv Levin — who has led the overhaul — and to his own supporters who want to see the original proposals enacted. The source speculated that Netanyahu will agree to offer “something” by the end of July, when the Knesset next recesses.

The summer session begins next week. Several senior officials told Channel 13 news on Friday that the coalition will not advance any of the overhaul bills until the passage of the state budget, which the ruling bloc must do by May 29.

Right-wing Israelis attend a rally in support of the government, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 27, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

The Knesset’s schedule in the coming weeks leaves little room for other initiatives. As a result, coalition figures are working to negotiate a postponement of legislation exempting ultra-Orthodox Israelis from military service until the next Knesset session. They’re likely to face pushback from the Haredi parties who were promised that the bill would be passed during the summer session.

Negotiations on the overhaul, which are being hosted by President Isaac Herzog, are expected to kick into higher gear next week, as the sides get into some of the finer details of the proposals at hand.

On Friday, National Unity chair Benny Gantz sounded a pessimistic tone regarding the chances for success in the talks.

Gantz denounced Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s biting attack on Supreme Court justices at the Thursday rally, saying the remarks called into question the coalition’s commitment to reaching a consensus on judicial reform as part of ongoing negotiations with the opposition.

Levin tore into Israel’s top court and defended the far-reaching proposals to change the judiciary, which he has been spearheading.

“The time has come for a High Court that does not give rights to the families of terrorists, and does not permit fake memorial services together with terror supporters.” Israel needs a court that “punishes rapists and doesn’t seek ways to protect them,” Levin said at the rally. “A court that protects IDF soldiers and not the terrorists’ neighbors.”

Gantz slammed the justice minister and other coalition figures for “inciting and lying” during the Jerusalem demonstration.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul outside the Knesset on April 27, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

“Levin’s false and unrestrained comments against the High Court evoke difficult thoughts about the ability to reach agreements in the talks at the President’s Residence, agreements that are needed for the Israeli people at this time,” the opposition party leader said in a statement.

Also Friday, Culture Minister Miki Zohar of Likud told Channel 12 that if no agreement is reached between the sides, the coalition will advance its proposals unilaterally.

Dismissing polling to the contrary, Zohar insisted that the overhaul is just as important to the government’s supporters as reducing the cost of living. The latter issue was far more prominent in Likud’s election campaign.

Zohar said the coalition would like to reach a compromise with the opposition, but will not do so at any cost.

“If we do not promote reform, we will lose our supporters. If we [advance the overhaul] without an agreement [with the opposition], we will lose the other side, which will continue the protest,” he acknowledged.

Zohar described Thursday’s rally as the right wing’s “first moment of pride as a camp since the elections.” Still, he said participants who were filmed walking on banners with the faces of Supreme Court chief Esther Hayut and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara “made a serious mistake and harmed the success of the demonstration.”

The Likud minister was adamant that those who oppose the overhaul do so because the government has failed to properly explain it, while noting that those who already support the proposals make up half of the public as is.

“The reform is not intended to harm anything, only to do good for the State of Israel,” said Zohar. “It must happen, the right-wing public was promised reform and that’s what they want.”

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