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Israel's PM announces delay of judicial reform process

March 27, 2023

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a postponement of plans to overhaul the judiciary, which had triggered protests and strikes by those who opposed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Image: Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced that the plan to overhaul the judiciary would be delayed, saying he wanted to seek compromise with opponents of the controversial reforms.

"When there's an opportunity to avoid civil war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, am taking a timeout for dialogue," Netanyahu said.

Earlier Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said he had agreed with Netanyahu to the delay until the Knesset — the Israeli parliament — reconvened for its summer session on April 30.

Trade union confederation calls off strike

The announcement comes as tens of thousands of Israelis protested against the reforms outside parliament. A nationwide strike that began on Monday, swiftly ended following Netanyahu's announcement.

"Following the prime minister's announcement, I declare the end of the strike," Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the confederation, said in a statement.

The umbrella organization of trade unions, Histadrut, had called for 700,000 workers in health, transit and banking, among other fields, to stop working.

Airport authority said flights from Ben Gurion International Airport had been grounded.

On Sunday, Netanyahu announced that he was dismissing Yoav Gallant as the country's defense minister. Gallant, who is a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, had called on the government to stop its plans to overhaul the judiciary the day before.

Second and third readings of reform bill to be postponed: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister

Reaction to the postponement

Israel's President Isaac Herzog, welcomed the pause and said it was "time for frank, serious and responsible discussion that will lead urgently to calming spirits and lowering the flames."

There was a sense of cautious optimism from some of Netanyahu's political opponents, with former centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid saying if the legislation did come to a stop, his Yesh Atid party would be ready to meet for talks brokered by the president.

"If the government engages in a real and fair dialogue we can come out of this moment of crisis — stronger and more united — and we can turn this into a defining moment in our ability to live together," Lapid said in a statement.

The White House welcomed the postponement and said it saw it "as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

"Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support."

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also welcomed the announcement and said: "It is vital that the shared democratic values that underpin that (UK-Israel) relationship are upheld, and a robust system of checks and balances are preserved."

Israel: General strike called off for now

Why are the reforms contentious?

The government announced the planned changes in January, arguing that they were needed to restore balance between the executive and judicial branches.

Netanyahu's government also argued that judges had become too interventionist.

The judicial overhaul would give the government sway in choosing judges and limit the Supreme Court's power to strike down laws.

Opponents of the legal changes say the ruling coalition —the most right-wing in Israel's history — is seeking to erode the separation of powers in Israel, putting the country on an authoritarian path.

Some indications of the Likud party being willing to rethink began to emerge late on Sunday as the protests intensified.

Culture Minister Micky Zohar, a close Netanyahu ally, said the party would back the prime minister if he moved to postpone the reforms.

Likud is the largest party within the broad ruling coalition, but only accounts for about half of its seats in the Knesset.

kb/jcg (AP, Reuters)