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Lapid, Gantz reject any talks on judicial reforms unless legislation halted

The Israeli opposition has rejected numerous overtures to hold talks under the president’s auspices without preconditions.

Then-Blue and White Party leaders Yair Lapid (left) and Benny Gantz attend a faction meeting at the opening of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, Oct. 3, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Then-Blue and White Party leaders Yair Lapid (left) and Benny Gantz attend a faction meeting at the opening of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, Oct. 3, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity Party chief Benny Gantz rejected on Monday any negotiations over the government’s judicial reform proposal unless the accompanying legislative process grinds to a complete halt.

“All our outreach for the sake of Israeli unity has been met with rejection and refusal. Israel stands at the threshold of a national emergency, and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu refuses to stop,” Lapid and Gantz said in a joint statement.

“We greatly respect and appreciate the efforts of the president to reach broad talks and agreements. But in order to hold honest and effective negotiations that will lead to the preservation of democracy and the unity of the people, Netanyahu must announce a complete, comprehensive and genuine halt to the legislative process. All attempts at shortcuts fly in the face of real dialogue,” they added.

President Isaac Herzog earlier Monday told a gathering of some 100 municipal officials that a compromise judicial reform proposal was nearly complete, and called on lawmakers to find common ground.

“I have already said that it is absolutely legitimate to discuss reforming the judicial system, and aspects of the proposal are indeed advisable. In the last few weeks, I have done everything in my power to bring about discussion and enable the sides to reach an agreement,” said Herzog.

“We are closer than ever to the possibility of an outline. There are agreements behind the scenes on most things,” he continued. “Now it depends on our national leadership, the coalition and the opposition, who need to rise to the occasion and understand the terrible alternative and put the country and its citizens above everything else.”

Lapid has rejected numerous overtures to hold talks under the president’s auspices without preconditions, from officials ranging from the prime minister to Justice Minister Yariv Levin to Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman.

“For eight weeks we have been calling for negotiations. We are bringing the reform to the Knesset to decide,” Netanyahu said on Sunday. “I call upon those in the opposition to do something simple: Present your alternative in an attempt to reach an agreement.”

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

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir warned on Monday that the potential for political violence in the country is real, and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the opposition.

Anti-judicial reform demonstrations turned violent last Wednesday, which protest leaders dubbed a “Day of National Disruption.” They held marches throughout the country and strikes at businesses and schools. They also laid out plans to block roads and make “house calls” to the private residences of coalition lawmakers.

In response, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) will take over responsibility for protecting Netanyahu’s wife and sons, the Ministerial Committee for Shin Bet Affairs decided on Sunday.

The Prime Minister’s Office requested the protection following the March 1 incident in which the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, had to be rescued by hundreds of police after being trapped for hours by anti-reform protesters in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant denounced on Sunday a decision by reserve fighter pilots to boycott mandatory training exercises in protest of the government’s judicial reform plans.

“The situation today requires dialogue and quickly. We face heavy and complex external challenges, and any call to refuse orders harms the functioning of the Israel Defense Forces and its ability to carry out its tasks,” said Gallant.

Earlier, a group of 37 Israel Air Force reserve F-15 pilots said that they would skip a day of combat training this week.

Protester organizers have announced another “Day of National Disruption,” also dubbed a “Day of Resistance,” against the reforms for Thursday.

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