One after another, coalition and opposition MKs took to the airwaves Sunday and blamed one another for returning Israel to the cusp of domestic tumult.
It almost seemed as if the MKs – be it Keti Shitrit speaking for the coalition on Kan Bet or Chili Tropper for the opposition on Army Radio – were reading from the same talking points and just filled in different names when identifying the culprit.
Each side said that the events in the Knesset on Wednesday, when the coalition suffered a humiliating loss by not selecting a member on the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee, while the coalition representative was voted in, revealing the true face of the other side.
The committee will convene only once the coalition selects a representative to the Judicial Selection Committee, something that must be done within 30 days. Opposition head and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz said that, as a result, they were suspending the talks under the support of President Isaac Herzog that have been taking place since late March seeking a broad consensus on judicial reform.
Shitrit said Lapid and Gantz’s suspension of the talks “revealed their true faces” and showed they were never truly interested in reaching an agreement.
Tropper said the exact same thing about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the opposition: Their failure to appoint a committee member shows bad faith and they were never really interested in reaching a compromise agreement; instead, they only wanted to buy time.
Consequently, some are again banging the domestic war drums.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect along with Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman of the sweeping plan to overhaul the judicial system, said on Friday after the dramatic events in the Knesset that he was “more determined than ever to do everything in order to pass the reform that is necessary to repair the justice system.”
And at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: “What was proven last week is that Gantz and Lapid have been playing a game. It was a misrepresentation of the so-called negotiations. We gave them a month, and then another month, and then another month, and their representatives did not agree to even the most minimal understanding. Their intention was to buy time, waste time, and dissolve any [judicial] change at a time when the majority of the public understands that there is a need to make changes in the judicial system.”
Therefore, Netanyahu said, “We will meet this week and begin the practical steps, in a measured and responsible manner, but in accordance with the mandate we received to make corrections to the judicial system.”
In other words, after pausing the judicial reform legislation on March 27 in the wake of unprecedented protest and calling for a broad agreement on the changes that would eventually be implemented, Netanyahu – in response to Gantz and Lapid’s suspension of the talks – said that the coalition would now continue to implement at least part of the reform.
The reactions were not long in coming
Lapid tweeted that “if Netanyahu advances with his coup plan unilaterally, as he stated, he will find out that he is the prime minister of less than half of the people of Israel, with less than half of the economy, less than half of the security [establishment], and less than half of the Knesset.”
Even before Netanyahu’s statement, Ehud Barak – the prime minister’s bitter enemy – called again for civil disobedience to prevent any type of judicial reform. And after Netanyahu’s statement, the protest movement leaders had this to say: “Netanyahu is a dictator in the making who is unable to abandon the judicial overhaul. We warn that any dictatorial legislation will be met with steadfast resistance from hundreds of thousands of determined Israelis. Our struggle will expand and intensify.”
In other words, after nearly three months of talks under the auspices of the president, Israel is heading back to square one.
Unless courageous voices in both camps come out against the extremists in their midst – the Levins and Tally Gotliv’s and Rothmans who are pushing for reform at all costs on one side, and the Baraks and Merav Michaelis and Shikma Besslers who are opposed to reaching any accommodation with Netanyahu and the coalition on the other – then the country should brace itself again for near fisticuffs in the Knesset, “days of rage,” reservists threatening not to serve, shrill rhetoric on the airwaves fanning the flames of civil war, money being pulled out of the country and a sinking shekel.
The country should also brace itself this time for more intense counter-demonstrations on the Right, that will only make the overall atmosphere even more tense.
In addition, Israel’s enemies are paying close attention to these developments, smelling weakness and calculating – as they did earlier this year – that this might be the perfect time to strike. And that strike could, as was the case in March and April, take the form of another attempted Hezbollah terrorist incursion from the north or rockets from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza.
Likud, Yesh Atid, and the National Unity Party entered the talks last March because the situation was spiraling out of control. The situation is likely to spiral out of control again if the sides give up on the talks and return to doing what they were doing in January, February, and March: one side ramrodding through legislation that would structurally change this country’s checks and balances, and the other side adopting measures to block this that are well outside what in the past were considered the “rules of the game.”
Listening on Sunday to both sides blame the other for the impasse was unsettling. They both claimed to have removed the mask of the other side and revealed their true face and intentions. Wonderful, then what? What good does an appropriation of blame do if, in the process, the country is again on the verge of descending into turmoil?
As the politicians on both sides are busy blaming one another for the current impasse, the big loser is not Netanyahu or Lapid and Gantz but rather the vast majority of the nation that cannot comprehend how disagreement over the process of selecting the committee that will select the nation’s judges is going to lead the country again to the abyss.
The part of the nation that the polls consistently show wants to see a compromise resolution is being held hostage by the extremists on both sides who don’t want compromise – that thing which greases the wheels in a democracy and allows it to function – but rather a knockout victory over the other side.
But there will be no knockout victory in this battle. And trying to achieve one will just leave the entire nation hobbled and badly bruised.