Sunday, September 24, 2023

Netanyahu seeking ‘active steps’ on Israel judicial overhaul despite mass rallies

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would pursue "active steps" on a contested judicial reforms within days after what he described as months of wasteful compromise talks with the political opposition.

Netanyahu’s televised remarks to his cabinet were spare on detail and come after opposition leaders last week suspended negotiations pending the formation of a key panel for selecting judges.

Unveiled soon after Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition took power in late December, the sweeping reforms would roll back some Supreme Court powers and give the government more control over appointments to the bench.

The proposed legislation set off unprecedented street protests, with critics of Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges he denies – accusing him of trying to curb judicial independence.

He says he wants to balance out branches of government and end perceived court overreach. But with Israel’s economy bruised by the furore and foreign allies voicing worry for its democracy, he froze the reforms in March and entered into the compromise talks.

“We gave a month and then another month and then another month – three months. Their (opposition) representatives did not agree to the most basic understandings. The intention was just to waste time,” Netanyahu told his cabinet.

“Most of Israeli society understands that there need to be changes in the judicial system,” he continued, adding, “That’s why we will meet this week and commence with active steps … in a measured way commensurate with the mandate we were given.”

With his coalition wielding 64 of parliament’s 120 seats, the ratification of reform bills, should they be brought to vote, looked possible.

But opposition leader Yair Lapid suggested Netanyahu could not be certain of a majority, after some members of the coalition voted in a secret ballot last week in favour of an opposition lawmaker joining the Judicial Appointments Committee.

“If Netanyahu goes ahead with the coup unilaterally as he has stated, he will find that he is the prime minister of less than half of the people of Israel, less than half the economy, less than half of the defence establishment and less than half of the Knesset (parliament),” Lapid tweeted.

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