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Opposition leaders to boycott final votes on judicial reform

“We will do everything to prevent the passing of the bills,” vow four Israeli political party chiefs.

From left: Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, National Unity leader Benny Gantz, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli and Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman meet to discuss strategy, March 13, 2023. Source: Yair Lapid/Twitter.
From left: Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, National Unity leader Benny Gantz, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli and Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman meet to discuss strategy, March 13, 2023. Source: Yair Lapid/Twitter.

Opposition leaders meeting on Monday declared that they would boycott future parliamentary votes on the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform plan.

Opposition leader and Yesh Atid Party Chairman Yair Lapid, National Unity Party Chairman Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beiteinu Party head Avigdor Lieberman and Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli took part in the meeting.

“As long as there is no halt of the legislation—it’s a deception,” they said in a joint statement, reiterating their precondition for negotiations.

“We will do everything to prevent the passing of the bills,” they said. “God forbid we get to a third [and final] reading [of the bills in the Knesset plenum].”

“Instead of a crazy collection of laws, the right alternative at this time is a comprehensive and balanced constitutional arrangement, strengthening the separation of powers until a constitution is created,” they said.

Lapid launched an attack against Netanyahu following the declaration. “He is already unfit and has lost control over his government. His ministers don’t respect his authority. The country is falling apart around him and he is prevented from doing anything.

“A real prime minister would slam down on the table, stop the coup d’état [the judicial reforms], call his partners to order, and tell them, ‘That’s it, it’s over.’ But Netanyahu can’t. He’s too weak,” added Lapid.

Gantz also made a statement following the meeting. Referring to the security situation, he said, “For the past few weeks, terrorism has been hitting us all over the country.” he said. “From all the affected families, the resounding call for unity can be heard.”

Two bills are expected to come up for a vote in the Knesset plenum on Monday, one dealing with the override clause, which would permit the Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down by the Supreme Court as “unconstitutional,” and one that would prevent the attorney general from declaring a prime minister unfit to serve.

Netanyahu on Sunday accused the opposition of trying to overthrow the government and vowed to continue pressing ahead with its judicial reform program.

“Only four months ago we held elections. The government I head received a clear mandate from the citizens of Israel. The fact that for two whole months our repeated calls for dialogue received no response from the opposition proves that what interests the opposition is not the judicial reforms, but the creation of anarchy and the overthrow of the elected government,” said Netanyahu.

“It is impossible to be in favor of the success of the Israeli economy and to encourage the flight of funds from Israel. It is impossible to be in favor of the rule of law and to encourage violations of the law. It is impossible to be in favor of the security of the state and to encourage insubordination [by IDF reservists] that would collapse the security of the state.

“There is no conditional Zionism,” said the premier.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu expressed hope that “honest” and “patriotic” members of the opposition, “those who care about the country,” will step up and engage in talks.

“But in any case,” he continued, “let no one make a mistake: We received a mandate from the public, and we will fulfill it.”

Last week, Justice Minister Yariv Levin—one of the main architects of the reforms—met with several prominent public figures who drafted a reform compromise proposal. Levin responded favorably to the outline, with sources from his office reportedly calling it a “breakthrough” and the “first outline that goes outside the box.”

A day earlier, Levin and MK Simcha Rothman, another principal advocate of the reforms who chairs the Knesset Law Committee that is dealing with the legislation, accepted a proposal by the Israel Manufacturers Association, the Chambers of Commerce and groups representing tech companies and building contractors for talks starting 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 initiate and attend talks with the president on Tuesday.”

Opposition leaders swiftly rejected the proposal.

Netanyahu, who has been barred by the attorney general from discussing the specifics of the reform program due to a possible conflict of interest with his ongoing criminal trial, has called on the opposition to present its 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 last week. “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.”

Lapid and Gantz rejected the overture and conditioned any negotiations on the government freezing the accompanying legislative process.

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