Key issues in crisis talks on Israel’s divisive judicial reforms

More than three months of tension that culminated in a general strike prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt controversial judicial reforms that had been a signature policy of his hard-right coalition government.

Talks began on Tuesday between coalition and opposition representatives under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog, and experts doubted that they could bring a resolution that would be acceptable to both sides.

These are some of the main issues that have come to light.

– ‘Give militia’ –

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir was the last member of the government to refuse to suspend the law reform legislation, hinting that it would end the coalition but ultimately agreeing to stay on.

Netanyahu’s price was a promise that the government would allow the establishment of a national guard, which would work under his ministry.

The idea of ​​a national guard arose after violence in Israeli cities during the May 2021 conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza, and by the following June, the force was launched as part of the border police.

The concept of Ben-Gvir controlling the armed force has raised concerns, with opposition leader Yair Lapid accusing the minister of trying to “turn his thug militia into a national guard, which will cause terror and violence everywhere in the country.” “

Ben-Gvir has been convicted in the past of supporting a terrorist group.

It is also said that the police are unhappy with the notion, and issued a joint statement with Ben-Gvir’s office saying that the commissioner met with the minister and “agreed that the police would submit their proposal regarding the establishment of the national guard in the presence of Ben-Gvir.”

– Time for a constitution? –

In a statement on Monday on his hope for talks with the government, Lapid raised the need to form a constitution.

Israel does not have a constitution, but a set of so-called Basic Laws that collectively address some of the fundamental issues facing the state.

“As we approach the 75th anniversary of the country, we must sit together and write the constitution of Israel based on the values ​​of the Declaration of Independence (1948),” he said.

But Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said it would be a “disaster” to establish a constitution with members of the current government.

“Israel’s Declaration of Independence talked about a Jewish and democratic state, but the main force of this coalition is pulling towards the Jewish and undemocratic,” she said.

“It is dangerous to expect that this will be a great constitutional moment for Israel,” she told reporters.

– A chance for compromise? –

Talks began at the president’s residence on Tuesday evening, but experts were far from convinced that the negotiations would do much more than delay the government’s reform legislation.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said it was possible Netanyahu would decide it was not worth pursuing the legislative process.

The Israeli premier could also end up “charging forward with the same package, after a short blame game on ‘We entered negotiations and the opposition was not ready for that’.”

Talshir said the talks were “bound”.

“Netanyahu knows exactly what he wants – to control the Supreme Court, the president of the court, and there is no way that the coalition government, which is very loyal to Netanyahu, will accept any other solution,” she said.

Talshir noted that Herzog had already drafted a student-drafted compromise, but Netanyahu flatly rejected it.

– Security risks –

The civil unrest triggered by the government’s separatist reforms “harms the security of Israel,” former Mossad Chief and army General Danny Yatom told journalists, pointing to threats from various actors, including Palestinian militants, Hezbollah and Iran, he said they were following the crisis closely.

The growing security risks “could come to his rescue,” Netanyahu’s Talshir said.

“It could be that Netanyahu may have to create some kind of emergency government with security tightening with Gantz (a man of the center opposition and former defense minister Benny), and dismiss more extremist ministers .”

A Gantz government would “keep the judicial reform intact” and ensure “not to implement it,” she said.

– ‘Constitutional crisis’? –

If talks fail and Netanyahu’s coalition pushes ahead with unilateral legislation, the laws will almost certainly be challenged in petitions to the Supreme Court.

And if the court were to overturn the laws, Israel could find an unprecedented solution because the judicial reforms empower parliament to override such a move by judges.

“If the legislation passes, there would be an appeal to the Supreme Court and the hope is that reform will rule unconstitutional. So the next step is a constitutional crisis, which would happen if the legislation were passed and the supreme court rules it unconstitutional ,” Talshir said.

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