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Netanyahu: ‘Exhausting every possibility’ to reach reform compromise

The High Court is about to hold a hearing on petitions asking it to cancel the “reasonableness law.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Aug. 20, 2023. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/POOL.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Aug. 20, 2023. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/POOL.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he is working to “exhaust every possibility” of reaching an agreement with the opposition on the government’s judicial reform plans, a day ahead of a critical High Court hearing on petitions asking to overturn the “reasonableness law.”

His comment came after National Security Minister and Otzma Yehudit Party head Itamar Ben-Gvir said that while he is in favor of negotiations, he would not accept a “surrender.”

“The reform is important to the State of Israel. It will balance the three authorities—the legislative, the executive and the judiciary,” said Ben-Gvir in a statement. “Surrendering in the [talks at the] President’s Residence would mean humiliating more than half the nation … [and] harming right-wing values.”

Earlier on Monday, National Unity Party head Benny Gantz seemingly left the door open for compromise, saying that he would accept a deal that “preserves democracy”

He spoke on the backdrop of reports that Netanyahu is considering announcing a “unilateral softening” of the “reasonableness law” to stave off a confrontation with the High Court.

The Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, is set on Tuesday to hear petitions against the law, passed as an amendment to a quasi-constitutional Basic Law on July 24, which prohibits judges from reviewing government action based on what they think is reasonable, regardless of whether that action violates a law.

It will be the first time in the court’s 75-year history that all 15 justices will hear a case.

On Monday evening, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said his Religious Zionism Party would agree to some concessions but would not cave in to the “dictates” of the opposition.

“I told the prime minister that we are ready for dialogue and agreements, including concessions, in order to bring about unity among the people, in order to keep the IDF united and strong and Israeli society intact,” said Smotrich in a statement.

“But at the same time, we strongly oppose dictates and ultimatums from those who lost the [Nov. 1 national] election, did not win the trust of the people and are trying, by threats of refusal [to serve in the military] to force their position on us.

“We are making great efforts to lead to honest dialogue, but unfortunately I see how [opposition leader and Yesh Atid Party head Yair] Lapid and Gantz, who blew up the [previous] talks at the President’s Residence, prevent any possibility—they want to get 100% [of their demands] and we won’t allow that. This is an anti-democratic ramming against the right-wing camp,” added Smotrich.

Also Monday, six people were arrested after anti-reform protesters blocked a highway and then clashed with police outside the home of Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the central Israeli city of Modi’in.

Dozens of opponents of judicial reform blocked Route 1 between Modi’in and Latrun as they walked slowly along the center of the highway before gathering in front of Levin’s home, one of several demonstrations held outside of the homes of government ministers. They planned to prevent Levin from leaving his house.

Route 1 is the main highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Clashes broke out when protesters tried to push past the security perimeter erected to keep them the required distance from Levin’s home. Police eventually moved the demonstrators to a safe distance and also cleared the protesters from the road there, allowing traffic to move again.

On Sunday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog cited the liturgy from the penitential prayers recited before the High Holidays to stress the need for unity among the Jewish people.

“Loving your fellow Jew is a very big mitzvah [biblical commandment]; it’s not for naught that … in the Selichot prayers, we say, ‘We have incurred guilt, we have betrayed, etc.’ Why is it in the plural tense? Because we are all responsible for everyone,” said Herzog in an address at the Or Hahaim yeshiva in Jerusalem before the evening pre-holiday prayer service.

“This entire holy congregation prays for all of the people of Israel. Why do we say ‘Hear, O Israel (Shema Yisrael)‘? We don’t say ‘Hear, O Abraham’ or ‘Hear, O Moses,’ we say ‘Hear, O Israel’ since we pray for the entire nation, and this is a tremendous privilege, to pray for the entire nation,” he said.

“It requires us and all those who serve the public, and all of the leaders, to show responsibility and take steps for all of the people of Israel and to maintain the unity of Israel against its enemies, so we can build the State of Israel that was given to us after thousands of years of exile, here, in Jerusalem the holy capital of Israel,” the president said.

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