What happened: Talks began last night between representatives from the coalition, and the opposition parties of Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party, facilitated by President Herzog to try and find a consensus on judicial reform.
- The talks are the beginning of a process, following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement on Tuesday evening that he was suspending legislation on the judicial reform to facilitate dialogue, with the goal of reaching a broad agreement.
- Following a day of national strikes on Monday that had closed down various sectors including the airport, Netanyahu had said, “When there’s a chance of averting a civil war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, take a timeout for dialogue. I am giving a real chance for real dialogue… Therefore, out of national responsibility, I have decided to suspend the second and third readings of the bill in this Knesset, ahead of legislation in the next session. Either way, we will enact a reform that restores the balance among the branches of government that has been lost, amid protecting and strengthening individual rights.”
- President Herzog, who has been calling for dialogue, welcomed the prime minister’s statement, saying, “Stopping the legislation is the right thing. Now is the time to begin earnest, serious and responsible dialogue that will urgently calm tempers and lower the flames. I call on everyone to display responsibility. Demonstrations and protests by any side—yes. Violence—under no circumstances. If one side wins, the country will lose.”
- At last night’s talks at the President’s Residence, the Likud was represented by Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs, Prof. Talia Einhorn, Dr. Aviad Bakshi and Minister Ron Dermer. Yesh Atid was represented by MK Orna Barbivai, MK Karin Elharar, the former director general of the Prime Minister’s Office Naama Schultz and Attorney Oded Gazit. The National Unity Party was represented by MK Gideon Saar, MK Chili Tropper, MK Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Attorney Ronen Aviani.
- Later last night the Labour Party leader Merav Michaeli said, “After much deliberation, we decided in the Labour faction to send a negotiating team to the President’s Residence – precisely because we do not trust or believe Netanyahu. We will be there, to make sure from the inside that the judicial overthrow laws do not come back to the Knesset vote through the back door… We weighed continuing an outcry from outside, but the thought that public representatives might concoct a deal at the expense of Israeli democracy makes it impossible for us to straddle the fence.”
- Despite Netanyahu’s announced suspension of the legislation, the bill to change the makeup of the Judges Selection Committee has now been tabled in the Knesset ahead of the vote on its second and third readings. On one hand this is technical, but it is means the bill could now be put to a Knesset vote within 24 hours before going on recess. The coalition has said that it would not do so.
Context: The prime minister’s speech delivered on Tuesday night followed a turbulent day of huge anti-government protest. His address also coincided with the first right-wing counter demonstration in support of judicial reform.
- The anti-government protests were attended by an estimated 600,000 people across the country. The pro-government rally was one of the largest ever right wing demonstrations, estimated at close to 200,000 people – larger than any of the protests that took place during the Bennett-Lapid government.
- There are suggestions that the President’s “people’s proposal” could be the basis for the dialogue.
- It is noteworthy that the makeup of the Likud’s negotiators are not the legal zealots, but those closest to the prime minister, like Minister Dermer, who favour a more consensual reform. The Likud delegation is said to have the full support of the coalition.
- The opposition enter these talks with high aspirations. Yesh Atid is hoping this process will include drafting a constitution. The Labour Party is looking to promote a bill of rights, to strengthen the status of the Knesset and to guarantee the independence of the judicial system.
- The role of Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is currently unclear. Gallant was fired by Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday night but no formal letter of dismissal has been issued. The defence minister will continue to serve until he is formally relieved of his duties.
- Gallant was fired for suggesting the legislation be suspended, the same policy that the prime minister adopted 24 hours later.
- In order for the prime minister to garner the support from all his coalition to delay the judicial reform, he agreed to Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s demand to form a National Guard that would be under his purview.
- A National Guard was proposed by the outgoing Bennett-Lapid government, but was meant to fall under the authority of the police. The police object to a parallel force being formed under a separate chain of command.
- The latest opinion polls show a surge in support for National Unity Party Chairman Benny Gantz. According to a poll on Kan News, the Likud receives 25 seats (down from 32), Yesh Atid: 22 (down from 24), The National Unity Party: 21 (up from 12). Overall the current coalition parties only receive 53 seats, whilst today they have 64.
- When asked who is best-suited to serve as prime minister, Netanyahu or Gantz – for the first time Gantz overtakes Netanyahu with 37 percent support v 30 percent.
Looking ahead: Today President Herzog will continue his consultation with other opposition factions including the United Arab List (Ra’am), Hadash-Ta’al and the Labour Party.
- The formation of the National Guard is expected to be put to a vote at the next cabinet meeting.
- The Knesset formally goes into recess on April 2nd. The summer session opens April 30th until July 30th which is the new deadline to pass the legal reform.