Political sources deny interim overhaul deal imminent after leak of reported proposal

Reported terms include requirement of cross-aisle support for major constitutional changes; government would be allowed to use private counsel when facing legal proceedings

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)
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)

Sources in the coalition and opposition on Tuesday denied that an interim deal was imminent in the ongoing talks aimed at reaching an agreement on changes to the judicial system, responding to a report that the office of President Isaac Herzog has floated an agreement under which fundamental changes of this sort would require a broad consensus.

According to the Monday report in Haaretz, the agreement would see 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 reported deal would also see the coalition agreeing to convene the judge selection panel in its current composition, in return for the opposition acceding to changes sought by the coalition in the way the government can be represented in legal proceedings against it.

Sources in the opposition leading Yesh Atid party denied that any agreement was imminent, saying such deals could only be made once the Judicial Selection Committee was actually convened and began to function. Coalition sources also said that such a deal was not in the offing.

The centerpiece of the government’s overhaul of the judicial system is a bill that would radically alter the Judicial Selection Committee by giving the governing coalition a built-in majority on the panel — and by extension almost complete control over the vast majority of judicial appointments in the country, including to the Supreme Court.

That bill could be passed at a moment’s notice with two back-to-back votes in the Knesset plenum. But the legislation was frozen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March in the wake of massive protests, while the election of two MKs to serve on the Judicial Selection Committee in its current format must legally be held by June 15.

Thousands of Israelis protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on April 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Supreme Court Judge Esther Hayut is retiring in October, and deliberations over her replacement could begin immediately once the committee is convened.

But sources in the coalition have threatened to appoint two coalition MKs to the committee — rather than the customary one from the coalition and one from the opposition — and to not convene the panel even once the MKs are selected.

According to the Haaretz report, the proposal being worked out by the president’s office would see the coalition allow one opposition MK to get elected to the committee and to have it convene.

In return, the opposition would make a public declaration agreeing to allow the government to use independent representation in legal proceedings against decisions made by the cabinet. Currently, if the attorney general opposes the government’s position regarding a policy matter that has been challenged in court, the government can only obtain independent legal counsel if the attorney general agrees.

Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a cabinet meeting, held at the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition, negotiations over a Basic Law: Legislation would continue until the Knesset winter session, the report said.

This law would include more stringent requirements for passing or amending the Basic Laws that comprise Israel’s quasi-constitution, meaning that any subsequent changes to the system of government would require broad agreement in Knesset and could not be made unilaterally by the current government or any future government.

Finally, the changes to the government’s ability to obtain legal counsel and the Basic Law: Legislation would be passed into law some time during the Knesset’s winter session, with further changes to the judicial system enacted after that.

MK Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition National Unity party, seemed to allude to such a deal on Monday in a speech at the Herzliya Conference, where he said he hoped “we can advance in the coming period toward agreements that will be the basis of for advancing legislation through full consensus.”

But a source in Yesh Atid denied that any such deal was imminent.

“If a representative of the opposition is elected to the Judicial Selection Committee and if the committee begins to work and appoint judges, then we can talk about agreements,” said the source.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with architects of the proposed judicial overhaul Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Simcha Rothman (standing) in the Knesset on February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior government source also denied the report was accurate, describing it as “spin.”

The office of the president said in response: “Negotiations are continuing in an attempt to come to an agreement, which has not yet been reached. Many options have come up in the deliberations and they are all examined seriously and in detail.

“We regret that partial details are being leaked during the [negotiation] process, which creates an inaccurate and distorted picture and sabotages the effort to reach agreements. This is a very complex moment for Israeli society, and those sitting in the negotiation room are expected to understand this and behave responsibly.”

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