Israel’s ‘fired’ Defence chief Gallant hangs on as Netanyahu hits pause [Lapid ‘ready for dialogue’] 

Dan Williams

Reuters  /  March 28, 2023

JERUSALEM – The Israeli Defence chief whose dismissal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the country’s political crisis to a climax is remaining in office until further notice, aides said on Tuesday, suggesting government indecision on how to proceed.

Beset by unprecedented nationwide protests at his nationalist-religious coalition’s signature plan to overhaul the judiciary, Netanyahu on Monday pressed the pause button and called for compromise talks with the centre-left opposition.

“We are in the midst of a crisis that is endangering the basic unity between us,” he said in a prime-time television address. “This crisis necessitates that we all conduct ourselves responsibly.”

His move stabilized Israel’s shaken economy. But questions remained about Netanyahu’s credibility – including within his own camp – after dissent by some senior Likud party colleagues.

Among these was Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who on Saturday broke rank by openly calling for a halt to the overhaul in the name of preventing anti-reform protests from spreading in the military. A day later, Netanyahu said he was firing Gallant.

But with 68% of Israelis faulting him for the crisis, Channel 12 found that, were an election held today, Netanyahu and coalition allies would lose. Two of those parties, Religious Zionism and Jewish Power, voiced misgiving at the reform pause.

Jewish Power’s leader, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, said Netanyahu had assured him that if compromise talks over the Passover festival and other national holidays in April fail, the coalition would pursue the reforms unilaterally.

In parliament, the coalition on Tuesday tabled for final readings a key bill that would give Netanyahu greater control of the system for selecting judges. A parliamentary spokesperson called this a technicality. Asked how soon the coalition could call a ratification vote, he said: “In theory, the day after.”

There were charges of bad faith from the opposition, which has already named a negotiating team for the compromise talks.

“A gun is being held to our heads,” tweeted former finance minister Avigdor Lieberman. He accused Netanyahu of using the pause in the judicial overhaul to deplete the anti-government protests, and urged fellow opposition leaders to withdraw their negotiators until the judges’ bill is withdrawn from the plenum.

Likud has yet to say who would represent the coalition in the talks. There was no immediate word from President Isaac Herzog, the host of the negotiations, on when they might begin.

While Israeli streets were mostly quiet on Tuesday, some of the tens of thousands of Israelis who have held escalating protests against the judicial overhaul said they would return.

“I will continue protesting until these reforms are completely dropped, because this isn’t a set of reforms, this is a coup by the executive,” said Eitan Kahana, a 27-year-old demonstrator in Jerusalem.

Critics say the judicial overhaul threatens the independence of the courts. Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, said the reforms balance out branches of government.

Editing by Howard Goller and Alexandra Hudson


Israeli opposition leaders say ready for dialogue

Reuters  /  March 27, 2023

JERUSALEM – Israeli opposition parties gave a cautious welcome to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to delay his flagship judicial reform package and said they would work to reach an agreement if the government was sincere.

Former centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the opposition needed to be sure that Netanyahu was not indulging in “tricks or bluffing” and said they had “bad experience” in the past with him.

“On the other hand, 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,” he said in a statement.

Reporting by James Mackenzie