PM vows to pursue ‘broad consensus’ on judiciary after overhaul revival spurs outcry

Netanyahu reiterates hope that negotiations over judicial shakeup can lead to deal, but member of his Likud party casts doubt that talks will go anywhere

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reaffirmed his intention to continue talks on the judicial overhaul at the President’s Residence, hours after passing the state budget and then immediately saying the planned shakeup of the judiciary will return to his coalition’s agenda.

Netanyahu’s release of a statement insisting on his commitment to the negotiations came after opposition figures denounced his earlier remarks.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said he has “zero faith” in Netanyahu and called for President Isaac Herzog, who is mediating the talks, to demand the premier issue a clarification, while National Unity party chief Benny Gantz vowed to make Israel “shake” if the government moves forward with its overhaul plans.

“We will of course continue with our efforts to arrive at a broad consensus agreement, to the extent possible, on the issue of judicial reform,” Netanyahu said in a video released on social media networks.

“I believe with goodwill and real will it’s possible to come to agreements that will serve all citizens of Israel,” he added.

The prime minister also pledged to fight the rising cost of living, less than a day after passing a two-year state budget that critics say is short on measures targeting the most pressing issue for Israeli voters.

Netanyahu said the budget “gives stability and momentum to the economy and also gives four years of stability in our politics, which is an important thing.” If the government had not passed the budget by its May 29 deadline, Israel would have been automatically sent to its sixth election in four years. The ruling right-religious coalition has now carved out an 18-month runway until it needs to pass the 2025 budget.

The budget passage also ended inter-coalition bickering over funding priorities, with Netanyahu boasting of renewed coalition unity during a press conference Wednesday morning.

Asked by reporters in the Knesset if the overhaul would be back on the table, Netanyahu responded “of course,” bucking speculation he may attempt to quietly bury the plan.

“We are already within it, trying to reach understandings [with the opposition], and I hope we will succeed,” he said.

Despite the premier’s more upbeat tone later Wednesday on the possibility for compromise, a Likud minister said he expected the talks would fizzle out.

“Right now our major task is to reach a broad agreement, but if we don’t reach an agreement — and it seems that we won’t… we’ll have to advance it unilaterally,” Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar told Channel 12 news.

Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar at his office in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zohar argued that if “some of the reform is not passed, this coalition cannot be preserved.”

“This entire coalition came into the world out of a desire to make changes to the judiciary,” he claimed. “We won’t go anywhere, we’ll complete four years and we’ll definitely make changes to the [judicial] system.”

The Likud minister stressed the coalition was seeking to approve the far-reaching changes without “creating a rift in the nation and hatred in the streets,” which he cited as the reasons for Netanyahu’s decision to pause the overhaul in late March as protests surged.

Zohar also dismissed the opposition’s criticisms of Netanyahu for vowing to bring back the judicial bills as “devoid of meaning.”

“The only one who determines the level of protest is the coalition,” he said, linking the size of the demonstrations to how much backlash specific measures “stir up.”

Meanwhile, Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky hit out at Gantz and Lapid, accusing them of competing among themselves over “who can bang the drum louder.”

“The time has come for opposition leaders to decide if they want to continue to be marionettes for the hatred corps, or to commit to what is right for the nation of Israel — broad agreement on reform in the judicial system,” Mildwidsky tweeted.

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

The talks being brokered by Herzog were paused this week during the budget vote and ahead of the Shavuot holiday, which begins Thursday evening, but are slated to resume next week.

On Tuesday, sources in the coalition and opposition denied that the outlines of an interim deal were beginning to emerge in the talks, responding to a report that Herzog’s office had suggested that both sides agree to negotiate the terms of a Basic Law: Legislation until the winter session of the Knesset, which begins October 15, guaranteeing that fundamental changes to the system of government would only be made with bipartisan agreement.

The judicial overhaul plan has sparked widespread opposition across Israel, with senior legal, security, and economic figures warning the move would undermine democracy by removing the system of checks and balances and as such will harm the country’s security and economy. Proponents argue they are defending democracy by reining in an activist court.

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