Al-Jazeera / March 20, 2023
Critics have accused Israeli PM Netanyahu of trying to curb independence of the courts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a softening of his hard-right government’s judicial changes plan, an apparent concession to more than two months of unprecedented nationwide protests and misgivings voiced by Western allies.
Wielding a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu had looked set to ratify the package of reforms by the Knesset’s April 2 recess.
However, most of its elements will now be shelved until the parliament reconvenes on April 30, Netanyahu and religious-nationalist coalition allies said on Monday.
The parts of the legislation that are still scheduled for ratification in the next two weeks would shake up Israel’s method of selecting judges – an issue at the heart of the reform controversy, with critics accusing Netanyahu of trying to curb the independence of the courts.
He insists his goal is balance among branches of government.
The uproar over the legal changes has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises. Beyond the protests, which have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis to the streets and have recently become violent, opposition has surged from across society, with business leaders and legal officials speaking out against what they say will be the ruinous effects of the plan.
The legislation would give more weight to the government in the committee that selects judges and would deny the Supreme Court the right to strike down any amendments to so-called Basic Laws, Israel’s quasi-constitution.
Monday’s coalition statement used more circumspect language than in the original bill introduced on January 4, but said it would continue to check the power of judges on the selection panel to use what it deemed an “automatic 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 makeup that grants the government less potential clout.
Previously, the bill envisaged the panel including three cabinet ministers, two coalition parliamentarians and two public figures chosen by the government – spelling a maximum 7-4 vote majority.
In its amended form, the bill envisages the panel being made up of three cabinet ministers, three coalition parliamentarians, three judges and two opposition parliamentarians. That could spell a slimmer, more precarious 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.
“We are extending a hand to anyone who genuinely cares about national unity and the desire to reach an agreed accord,” the coalition statement said.
The judicial overhaul is a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s administration, an alliance with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right parties which took office in late December.
Some critics have said Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, is driven by personal grievances and that he could find an escape route from the charges if these changes are put through.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES
Israeli government drives ahead with judicial plan despite outcry
AP / March 20, 2023
TEL AVIV, Israel – A firebrand Israeli minister claimed there’s “no such thing” as a Palestinian people as Israel’s new coalition government, its most hard-line ever, plowed ahead on Monday with a part of its plan to overhaul the judiciary.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition said it was pushing a key part of the overhaul — which would give the coalition control over who becomes a justice or a judge — before the parliament takes a month-long holiday break next week.
The development came a day after an Israeli and Palestinian delegation at a meeting in Egypt, mediated by Egyptian, Jordanian and U.S. officials, pledged to take steps to lower tensions roiling the region ahead of a sensitive holiday season.
It reflected the limited influence the Biden administration appears to have over Israel’s new far-right government and raised questions about attempts to lower tensions, both inside Israel and with the Palestinians, ahead of a sensitive holiday season.
As the negotiators were issuing a joint communique, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich delivered a speech in Paris saying the notion of a Palestinian people was artificial.
“There is no such thing as a Palestinian nation. There is no Palestinian history. There is no Palestinian language,” he said in France late Sunday. He spoke at a lectern draped with what appeared to be a map of Israel that included the occupied West Bank and parts of Jordan.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called Smotrich’s remarks “racist, fascist and extremist.”
A far-right settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, Smotrich has a history of offensive statements against the Palestinians. Last month, he called for the Palestinian town of Hawara in the West Bank to be “erased” after radical Jewish settlers rampaged through the town in response to a shooting attack that killed two Israelis. Smotrich later apologized after an international uproar.
During Sunday’s talks in Egypt, a Palestinian gunman carried out another shooting attack in Hawara, seriously wounding an Israeli man.
The new violence, along with Smotrich’s comments, illustrated the tough challenges that lie ahead in soothing tensions after a year of deadly violence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks during that time.
Sunday’s summit was held ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week. The Jewish festival of Passover is set to take place in April, coinciding with Ramadan.
The upcoming period is sensitive because large numbers of Jewish and Muslim faithful pour into Jerusalem’s Old City, the emotional heart of the conflict and a flashpoint for violence, increasing friction points.
Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit a key Jerusalem holy site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount — an act the Palestinians view as a provocation.
Clashes at the site in 2021 helped trigger an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
The heightened tensions with the Palestinians coincide with mass demonstrations inside Israel against Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.
Opponents of the measure have carried out disruptive protests, and the debate has embroiled the country’s military, where some reservists are refusing to show up for service. Netanyahu has rejected a compromise by Israel’s figurehead president.
During his call with Netanyahu, Biden appealed for caution, the White House said, “as a friend of Israel in the hopes that there can be a compromise formula found.”
The president “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the White House said, and added that “fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”
Netanyahu’s government says the plan is meant to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power over the legislative process. Critics say the overhaul would upend the country’s delicate system of checks and balances and push Israel toward authoritarianism. They also say Netanyahu could find an escape route from his corruption trial through the overhaul.
The protests, along with the rising violence with the Palestinians, have posed a major challenge for the new government. So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Fourteen people in Israel, all but one of them civilians, have been killed in Palestinian attacks.
Israel says most of those killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and people not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their future independent state.
Associated Press writer Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem contributed to this report
Israel: Biden tells Netanyahu he backs compromise on judicial overhaul
Middle East Eye / March 19, 2023
Biden says democratic values a hallmark of US-Israeli ties during call with Netanyahu amid concern for Israel’s democratic health at home and abroad.
US President Joe Biden on Sunday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that democratic values were a hallmark of US–Israeli ties and said he supported finding a compromise over a highly contested judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu, according to his office, assured Biden that Israel’s democracy was healthy.
Since being re-elected late last year to head one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israel’s history, Netanyahu has been pursuing changes to the judiciary that would give his government greater sway in selecting judges and limit the power of the supreme court to strike down legislation.
The plan has stirred concern for Israel’s democratic health at home and abroad.
It has triggered weeks of mass demonstrations and on Sunday hundreds of Israeli reservists in elite military and intelligence units said they were joining the protests.
Biden “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship,” the White House said in a readout of the call.
Biden spoke of the need for checks and balances and for seeking broad support when making fundamental changes.
“The president offered support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles,” the White House said.
Netanyahu’s office said he told Biden “that Israel was, and will remain, a strong and vibrant democracy”.
The two leaders also spoke about the “Iranian threat”, his office said in a statement, but it did not elaborate.
Critics of the planned law changes say Netanyahu – on trial on corruption charges that he denies – is pursuing steps that will hurt Israel’s democratic checks and balances, enable corruption and bring diplomatic isolation.
Proponents say the changes are needed to curb what they deem an activist judiciary that interferes in politics.