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Israeli opposition rejects overture to negotiate over judicial reforms

Deadlock continues over demand for a freeze on the legislation.

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against the government's judicial reform program, March 04, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari/Flash90.
Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against the government's judicial reform program, March 04, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari/Flash90.

The political tug-of-war over opening negotiations on the judicial reform program continued on Sunday, with opposition leaders rejecting a new government-backed proposal for talks this week under the auspices of the president.

The dispute over the judicial reforms, which has mushroomed into the most intense domestic crisis in years, is currently focused not so much on the specifics of the legislation but as part of a bitterly divisive debate over whether negotiations can commence with or without freezing the legislative process.

In the latest back and forth, the main leaders pushing the reform—Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset member Simcha Rothman, who chairs the Knesset committee dealing with the legislation—on Sunday accepted a proposal by the Israel Manufacturers Association, the Chambers of Commerce and groups representing tech companies and building contractors for talks starting on Tuesday at the President’s Residence without preconditions.

“From the very first day, we said we were in favor of a dialogue in an attempt to reach an understanding on the reform and at least to reduce the controversy,” the leaders of the reform said in a joint statement. “We respond to the call for talks without preconditions and call on others in the opposition to respond to the initiative and attend talks with the president on Tuesday.”

Opposition leaders swiftly rejected the proposal.

“Dear Justice Minister, … enough with the spins,” tweeted Knesset member Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity Party. “The Knesset is in session and pushing full speed ahead [on the legislation], and you ask that we meet? We don’t need to wait till Tuesday. Announce that you are stopping, and we can meet today at the President’s.”

Earlier Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been barred by the attorney general from discussing the reform program due to a possible conflict of interest with his ongoing criminal trial, called on the opposition to present their own proposal for judicial overhaul.

“For eight weeks, we have been calling for negotiations. We are bringing the reform to the Knesset to decide,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “I call upon those in the opposition to do something simple: Present your alternative in an attempt to reach an agreement.”

The premier said that with goodwill an agreement could be reached “within days.”

According to a Channel 13 report, Netanyahu had planned to announce a freeze on the legislation last week but walked back from the idea after Levin threatened to resign.

Protester organizers have announced a “Day of National Disruption” against the reforms for Thursday, following up on one held last Wednesday.

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