Israel‘s hard-right government will undertake a second day of talks on 29 March over controversial judicial reforms. They come after prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to pressure in the face of a nationwide walkout on 27 March.
The judicial overhaul would curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater powers over the selection of judges. As the Canary previously reported, this led to vocal criticism of Netanyahu’s government, culminating in widespread protests against state overreach.
The 27 March general strike and mass protests were the country’s most severe in years. The strike hit airports, hospitals and more. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of opponents of the reforms rallied outside parliament in Jerusalem. As a result, Netanyahu paused progress on the reform. In a broadcast, he said:
Out of a will to prevent a rupture among our people, I have decided to pause the second and third readings of the bill [to allow time for dialogue]
The decision to halt the legislative process marked a dramatic U-turn for Netanyahu. He had announced he was sacking his defence minister, who had called for the very same step just a day earlier.
Israel amidst a ‘judicial coup’
President Isaac Herzog hosted the first day of talks between the government and two main centrist opposition parties – Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party. However, scepticism and suspicion over the negotations remained high throughout Israel. Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, remarked that it did not amount to a peace deal. He added:
Rather, it’s a ceasefire perhaps for regrouping, reorganising, reorienting and then charging – potentially – charging ahead
Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid reacted warily, saying that he wanted to be sure “there is no ruse or bluff”. And a joint statement between Lapid’s Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party said talks would stop immediately “if the law is put on the Knesset’s (parliament’s) agenda”.
Meanwhile, activists vowed to continue their rallies, which have persisted for weeks, sometimes drawing tens of thousands of protesters. The Umbrella Movement of Resistance Against Dictatorship said:
We will not stop the protest until the judicial coup is completely stopped
Far right pulling the strings
The crisis has revealed deep rifts within Netanyahu’s fledgling coalition, an alliance with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister, had pressed his supporters to rally in favour of the reforms. He also threatened to quit if the government put the overhaul on hold. His Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party revealed that, as a result, the decision to delay the legislation involved an agreement to expand the Ben-Gvir’s portfolio.
The affair has hit the coalition’s standing among the Israeli public, just three months after it took office. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has dipped seven points, according to a poll by Israel’s Channel 12. It went on to predict that the government would lose its majority in the 120-seat parliament if an election were held now.
Featured image via BBC News/YouTube
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse