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Lapid rejects Netanyahu overture, conditions talks on reform freeze

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid invokes U.S. pressure as a reason to delay the legislative process • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “It is possible and necessary to talk in order to reach agreements or at least reduce the disagreements among us.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, then the foreign minister, walks past Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time the leader of the opposition, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 8, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, then the foreign minister, walks past Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time the leader of the opposition, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 8, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid on Tuesday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to negotiate without preconditions over the government’s judicial reform proposals.

“Mr. Netanyahu. This is not the time for false slogans and spins. Instead of statements to the media, phone the president, let him know that you are stopping the legislative process and starting dialogue within the framework [he has presented],” Lapid tweeted.

“Citizens of Israel, I have no pleasant way of saying this: Prime Minister Netanyahu is lying,” he wrote. “For many weeks now, we have been trying to hold a dialogue with them. The president urged them to stop the legislation and hold talks. The Americans have asked them to stop the legislation and hold talks, and the entire people of Israel are asking the government to prevent a terrible rift and to hold dialogue. Instead, they are running ahead with hasty, irresponsible and anti-democratic legislation that severely harms the economy and security,” added Lapid.

“Bibi,” he continued, using the prime minister’s nickname, “without tricks and without shticks, stop the legislation and there will be dialogue.”

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu reached out to the people of Israel, saying “this is the time to talk.”

“I hear the voices of the people. I hear those who are praising [the judicial reforms] and I also hear those who are concerned. When there are disagreements among us, it is possible and necessary to talk in order to reach agreements or at least reduce the disagreements among us,” he said.

“It is within reach. I believe that we can do this, but it requires one basic thing from everyone. It requires leadership and national responsibility. I am obliged to give all the backing and support necessary in order to reach agreements, but to do so it is necessary to stand up and talk. Unfortunately, as of now, nobody on the other side has stood up,” he continued.

“[So] I am standing up, and I am calling out from here: Come and let’s talk—here and now—with neither pre-conditions nor excuses, so that together we might achieve broad agreement for the good of all Israeli citizens, and for the good of our country,” he said.

Lapid last month called on President Isaac Herzog, who is not an elected official and whose role is that of national figurehead, to set up a committee to recommend a “balanced” plan to reform the judiciary. In response, the Israeli president two weeks ago presented five principles as “a basis for immediate and decisive negotiations that will arrange the relations between the government branches.”

The following day, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman urged opposition leaders to meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to discuss the reform program.

Lapid rejected that overture as well.

The Knesset on Tuesday passed in first reading two pieces of legislation related to the judicial reforms following a noisy six-hour-plus debate that ended after midnight.

The first bill seeks to amend Basic Law: The Judiciary so that the Supreme Court can’t invalidate basic laws, which are considered to have quasi-constitutional status in Israel. The second bill would change the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee to give elected officials a majority in choosing judges both for the Supreme Court and lower courts.

Throughout the evening, opposition and coalition MKs traded barbs as they mounted the Knesset podium. Some opposition MKs draped themselves in Israeli flags while heckling members of the government.

Lawmaker Ram Ben-Barak, from Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, invoked the rise of the Nazis during the debate.

“This is worse than all the regimes that we don’t want to be like,” said Ben-Barak. “The Turks, Hungarians or Poles, and yes, I will say from this podium, Nazi Germany. They rose to power democratically.”

Earlier, protesters harassed several Israeli coalition lawmakers outside their homes in a bid to block them from reaching the Knesset.

Protest organizers had declared Monday a “national day of struggle,” and held a large rally outside the Knesset along with marches in several cities.

In response, Netanyahu harshly criticized the opposition, saying it had “gone off the rails.”

“[MK] Ram Ben-Barak shamefully and scandalously compared the Israeli government to the Nazis; protest leaders tried to confine coalition members in their homes; and members of the opposition dishonored the Israeli flag in the Knesset plenum,” said Netanyahu.

“The opposition has gone off the rails. But we continue!” he added.

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