Israel’s parties to hold first talks on justice reforms

President Isaac Herzog has invited ruling parties and the opposition to meet on Tuesday, a day after the planned judicial overhaul was delayed.

Demonstrators wear masks and wave Israeli flags during a protest
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the judicial system sparked a general strike and mass protests [Oded Balilty/AP]

Israel’s far-right government and opposition parties are set to open talks on controversial judiciary reforms that have sparked a general strike and mass protests, the presidency said.

President Isaac Herzog invited the working teams representing the ruling coalition and the first two opposition parties for a first meeting at the president’s residence in Jerusalem at 7:30pm (16:30 GMT) on Tuesday, his office said.

It added that Herzog was expected to meet with representatives of the other parties later in the week.

The talks come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced that he would delay the legislative process for several weeks.

“Out of a will to prevent a rupture among our people, I have decided to pause the second and third readings of the bill” to allow time for dialogue, the prime minister said in a broadcast.

The dramatic U-turn came while tens of thousands of reform opponents rallied outside parliament in Jerusalem to protest the planned judicial overhaul, which would curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater powers over the selection of judges.

Protesters took to the streets on Sunday, after Netanyahu sacked Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who had warned that the crisis threatened national security.

Gallant on Monday said he welcomed “the decision to stop the legislative process in order to conduct dialogue”.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Tel Aviv, said it was unclear if he [Gallant] was still holding his ministerial post. “Gallant hasn’t yet received a statutory notice telling him he’s been fired, he’s supposed to be given a 48 hours notice,” Smith said. “He still has his job as far as we know.”

‘Ruse or bluff’

Netanyahu’s move to delay the judicial overhaul was greeted with scepticism by Israel’s opposition leaders. Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz said the talks will stop immediately “if the law is put on the Knesset’s [parliament’s] agenda”.

Lapid reacted warily on Monday, saying he wanted to be sure “that there is no ruse or bluff”.

The opposition had previously refused to negotiate over the reforms until the legislative process was stopped.

Activists vowed to continue their rallies, which have continued for weeks. “This is another attempt of Netanyahu trying to gaslight the Israeli public in order to weaken the protest and then enact a dictatorship,” the Umbrella Movement of Resistance against Dictatorship said.

“We will not stop the protest until the judicial coup is completely stopped,” it added in a statement.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent said more protests had been called for Thursday and Saturday. “Organisers said that Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid don’t represent them, they want people to still come out and protest until this law is abandoned completely,” Smith said.

He added that Netanyahu was now stuck “between a rock and a hard place.”If he abandons [the judicial overhaul] his coalition will almost certainly collapse because he relies on the support of the far-right,” the correspondent said.

The Likud Party’s rating has dipped seven points, according to a poll by Israel’s Channel 12, which predicted the government would lose its majority in the 120-seat parliament if elections were held.

“He could try to persuade the far-right to compromise but they tend to be more ideologically driven that pragmatic, so that’s going to be difficult,” Smith said.

‘No turning back’

The crisis has revealed deep rifts within Netanyahu’s fledgling coalition, an alliance with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties that are pressuring Netanyahu to move ahead with the reform.

In a tweet on Monday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich asserted “there will be no turning back” on the judicial overhaul.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir revealed on Monday that the decision to delay the legislation involved an agreement to expand the minister’s portfolio after he threatened to quit if the overhaul was put on hold.

Critics of Netanyahu said the promise to create a national guard under Ben-Gvir’s command was tantamount to allowing him to form his private militia.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies