Critics have accused Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of trying to limit the independence of the courts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a relaxation of his far-right government’s plan for legal changes, an apparent concession to more than two months of unprecedented nationwide protests and doubts raised by Western allies.
With a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu appeared poised to ratify the reform package before the Knesset recess on April 2.
However, most elements of it will now be suspended until parliament reconvenes on April 30, Netanyahu and religious-nationalist coalition partners said Monday.
The parts of the legislation still scheduled for ratification in the next two weeks would shake up Israel’s method of selecting judges — an issue at the center of the reform controversy, with critics accusing Netanyahu of undermining the independence of the to suppress courts.
He insists his goal is balance between the branches of government.
The uproar over the law changes has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises. Aside from the protests, which have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis to the streets and recently turned violent, opposition has emerged from across society, with business leaders and legal officials speaking out against what they say will be the devastating consequences of the plan.
The legislation would give the government more weight in the committee that selects judges and would strip the Supreme Court of its right to overturn changes to so-called basic laws, Israel’s quasi-constitution.
Monday’s coalition statement used more wary language than the original bill introduced on Jan. 4, but said it would continue to review the power of judges on the selection panel to use what it deemed an “automatic veto” over nominations for the couch.
The statement further mentioned changes to the bill at a Knesset review session on Sunday, which would see the selection panel expanded from 9 to 11 members as originally planned, but with a composition that gives the government less potential influence.
Previously, the bill provided for the panel to be made up of three cabinet ministers, two coalition MPs and two public figures elected by the government – with a maximum majority of 7-4 votes.
In its amended form, the bill provides for a panel consisting of three cabinet ministers, three coalition MPs, three judges and two opposition MPs. That could mean a slimmer, more uncertain 6-5 majority for the government.
The amended bill further stipulates that no more than two Supreme Court justices can be appointed by regular panel vote in any given Knesset session.
All nominations beyond that would need to be approved by a majority vote, including at least one judge and one opposition legislator among the members of the selection panel.
“We extend a hand to all who genuinely care about national unity and the desire to reach an agreement,” the coalition statement said.
The judicial overhaul is a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s government, an alliance with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and far-right parties that took office in late December.
Some critics have said Netanyahu, on trial for corruption, is driven by personal grievances and could find an escape route from charges if these changes are implemented.