Netanyahu softens judicial overhaul after Biden call
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[March 20, 2023]
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
announced a softening on Monday of his hard-right government's judicial
overhaul plan, an apparent bid to calm more than two months of
nationwide protests and misgivings voiced by Western allies.
The announcement followed a call on Netanyahu by U.S. President Joe
Biden to seek compromise and consensus in the constitutional crisis. But
it was scorned by the centre-left political opposition and stepped-up
The already-shaken shekel slipped another 0.4% versus the dollar. Tel
Aviv shares were 0.3% lower. Some lawmakers in Netanyahu's coalition
cast the revisions as "capitulation".
Wielding a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu had looked set to ratify
the package of reforms by the Knesset's recess on April 2. But most will
now be shelved until it reconvenes on April 30, he and partners in the
religious-nationalist coalition said.
The legislation still slated for ratification in the next two weeks
would shake up Israel's method of selecting judges - an issue at the
heart of the controversy, with critics accusing Netanyahu of trying to
curb independence of the courts.
The veteran premier - under trial on corruption charges he denies -
insists he seeks balance among branches of government.
In Sunday's phone conversation, Biden said he would support a compromise
on the judicial overhaul and encouraged checks and balances and building
broad agreement, according to the White House.
Netanyahu reassured the U.S. president of the health of Israeli
democracy, according to the prime minister's office.
Monday's coalition statement used more circumspect language than in the
original bill introduced on Jan. 4, but said it would continue to check
the power of judges on the selection panel to use what it deemed their
"veto" over nominations to the bench.
The statement further noted amendments made to the bill in a Knesset
review session on Sunday, whereby the selection panel would be expanded
from 9 to 11 members as originally planned but with a make-up that
grants the government less potential clout.
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An aerial view shows people protesting
as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist coalition
government presses on with its contentious judicial overhaul, in Tel
Aviv, Israel, March 18, 2023. REUTERS/Oren Alon
Previously, the bill envisaged the panel including three cabinet
ministers, two coalition lawmakers and two public figures chosen by
the government - spelling a 7-4 vote majority.
It its amended form, the bill envisages the panel being made up of
three cabinet ministers, three coalition lawmakers, three judges and
two opposition lawmakers. That could make for a slimmer and less
assured 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 voting in a given
Knesset session. Any appointments beyond that would have to be
approved by a majority vote including at least one judge and one
opposition lawmaker among selection panel members.
The coalition statement said it was "extending a hand to anyone who
genuinely cares about national unity and the desire to reach an
agreed accord". Opposition leader Yair Lapid rejected the overture,
saying nothing substantive had changed.
"This most recent coalition proposal is a blueprint for a hostile
takeover of the justice system," Lapid said on Twitter.
The Black Flags activist group said demonstrations that have already
shaked the country and reached into its normally apolitical military
would be intensified. It accused Netanyahu of attempting "to put the
protest to sleep with pretty words".
Netanyahu also faced coalition censure.
"I awoke to a morning of capitulation," Tally Gotliv, a lawmaker in
his conservative Likud party, told Ynet Radio. "We surrendered on
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Nick
Macfie and Angus MacSwan)
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