Herzog meets with opposition factions for 2nd day of talks on judiciary

President Isaac Herzog met on Wednesday with representatives of several opposition factions and negotiations on the government’s plans to radically redo the judicial system into the second day.

Herzog held talks with Labor, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al, marking the latest round of meetings since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday a pause in the coalition’s legislative push against opposition to the overhauled throughout the country.

None of those parties were present at Tuesday’s meetings at Áras an Uachtaráin. Labor and the other opposition Yisrael Beytenu had expressed doubts that Netanyahu’s Likud faction was committed to negotiating in good faith.

“We came to ensure, from within, that the judicial subversion laws do not come back to the Knesset through the back door,” Labor said in a statement after the meeting.

Labor said conditions for any deal included “constitutional protection of human rights” and ensuring the independence of the judiciary. He also called for “the complete cancellation of the proposals for judicial deletion.”

Explaining its decision to join the talks, Labor called itself “the gateway to democratic value[s]” and met Herzog in this capacity.

“We will make sure that we behave completely transparently, as we have done so far, and that we will be in a continuous and comprehensive dialogue with the leaders of public protest, civil society and legal and political science experts,” said the party.

In this handout photo, President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of the Ra’am party at the Presidential Palace in Jerusalem, March 29, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Chief executive Ra’am Mansour Abbas told an Arabic radio station that his Islamic party would leave the talks if members feel their participation is just a figleaf.

Hadash-Ta’al, an alliance of two mostly Arab parties, said it told Herzog it has “no confidence” in the break declared by Netanyahu, citing “past experience.”

“We oppose the transparent efforts to block the protests,” he said in a statement. “This is the time to establish full democracy and equality and not be content with returning to the status quo.”

Yisrael Beytenu, meanwhile, continued to stay away from the talks, which right-wing secular party leader Avigdor Liberman reiterated he believes are a “scam” by Netanyahu and his religious-right coalition.

Liberman leveled the charge after Justice Minister Yariv Levin promised to resume efforts to pass the judicial legislation after the Knesset’s upcoming Passover recess. Levin, Number 2 in Likud and a leading figure in the planned reform of the judiciary, told supporters that the coalition would organize rallies across the country “to show what the majority of the people want.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid asked Netanyahu to confirm that Levin’s comments do not reflect his own.

“The Minister of Justice is calling the negotiations at the President’s Mansion a fraud,” Lapid tweeted.

He later told Channel 12 news that he and others were approaching the talks frantically.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The talks opened on Tuesday with delegations representing Likud, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and the opposition National Unity party meeting with Herzog. The first day of meetings did not tackle the substance of the potential reform, focusing instead on the negotiation mechanism. Channel 12 reported that it was also aimed at fostering a friendly atmosphere that would be more conducive to talks than the fiery, combative rhetoric that the sides have used against each other publicly in recent weeks.

Tensions surrounding the shakeup have eased significantly since the legislative shutdown was announced on Monday, a day after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for publicly urging a freeze, but the issue remains a ticking time bomb in the home and in the diplomatic field.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden spoke out against the reform for the first time, calling on Netanyahu to reverse course. Israel’s prime minister quickly dismissed the remarks as a concern for Israeli affairs and on Wednesday dismissed concerns about the proposed overhaul, saying he was determined to reach a consensus as he addressed the US State Department Summit for Democracy.

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