After contact with Biden: Netanyahu will make improvements in the judicial authority amendments, softening his position
On Monday, March 20, 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced improvements to his far-right government’s plan to amend the judiciary laws, in an apparent attempt to quell the protests that swept the country more than two months ago and the concerns expressed by allies in the West.
The announcement came after a call Netanyahu received from US President Joe Biden to discuss reaching a settlement and consensus in the constitutional crisis. But the improved plan was met with discontent from the centre-left opposition parties and an escalation of demonstrations.
The value of the shekel, already faltering, fell 0.4 percent against the dollar, while the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange opened 0.3 percent lower. Some lawmakers in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition have called the improvements “surrender”.
It seems that Netanyahu, who enjoys a parliamentary majority, is ready to pass the reform package before the parliament (Knesset) recess, which begins on the second of April, but he and his allies in the coalition consisting of religious and national parties announced the postponement of most aspects of the plan until the Knesset reconvenes on April 30.
The draft legal amendments, which are still due to be ratified within the next two weeks, would change the method used in Israel for selecting judges, which raises the bulk of the controversy, as opponents accuse Netanyahu of trying to undermine the independence of the courts and the judiciary.
The veteran prime minister, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, insists his aim is to strike a balance between ruling circles.
The White House stated that Biden said in the call, which took place on Sunday, that he would support reaching a settlement on amendments to the judiciary laws, and encouraged the establishment of checks and balances and reaching a broad agreement.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu had reassured the US President of the integrity of the democratic system in Israel.
A statement issued Monday by Israel’s ruling coalition used more cautious language than that contained in the original draft legal amendments submitted on January 4. But the coalition has indicated that it will continue to consider judges on the selection committee using what it called a “veto” of nominations to the bench.
The statement also noted improvements to the draft legal amendments in a review session held by the Knesset Sunday, as the number of members of the selection committee will be increased from nine to 11 as originally proposed but with a composition that gives the government less influence.
The original draft legal amendments provided for the formation of the committee to include three ministers, two deputies from the ruling coalition parties, and two public figures chosen by the government, giving the government a majority of seven against four in the number of votes.
In the amended version, the committee will consist of three ministers, three deputies from the coalition, three judges, and two opposition deputies, which means a majority with a smaller margin for the government, with six votes to five.
The draft of the improved legal amendments also stipulates that no more than two judges may be appointed to the Supreme Court during a regular vote in a single session of the Knesset.
Any appointments beyond this must be approved by a majority of the members of the selection committee, including at least one judge and at least one opposition deputy. “We extend our hand to everyone who truly cares about national unity and the desire to reach a consensus solution,” the coalition statement said.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid rejected the proposal, saying it did not fundamentally change anything. “This latest proposal from the coalition government is a blueprint for a hostile takeover of the justice system,” Lapid wrote on Twitter.
The Black Flags Movement said the demonstrations would intensify in defiance of Netanyahu’s offer, which it rejected as “a clear attempt to quell the protests with bombast”.
Netanyahu also faces criticism from within the ruling coalition. “I woke up to a morning of giving up… We gave up,” lawmaker Tali Gottliffe of Netanyahu’s Likud party, a staunch supporter of the legal changes, said in a radio interview.