After the first parts of the judicial reform passed in a first reading full of protests and shouting on Monday night, settlement leaders continue to call for the coalition and opposition to launch a dialogue in order to ease the escalating civil discord around the reform.
Last week, over 90 mayors and heads of local and regional councils, including the leaders of the West Bank communities of Efrat, Ariel, Beit El, Har Adar, Oranit, Alfei Menashe and the Megilot Yam Hamelakh Regional Council, signed a letter calling for dialogue between the opposition and coalition to help mend the divide being created in Israeli society and reach a compromise.
A call for dialogue
Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi led the initiative to drum up support for and publish the letter. After an interview with Revivi concerning the need for dialogue was shared in a WhatsApp chat with other local authorities earlier this month, he informed them that he would be meeting with President Isaac Herzog and encouraged them to express their support for the call for dialogue. Within an hour, he had over 90 local authorities expressing support for the initiative.
"Within that group of 90 mayors, we have those who are extremely against the reform, those who are extremely in support of the reform, but the common denominator of all of them is that they're all mayors, all experienced elected officials that know that when they want to pass decisions, when they want to make policy, they need to try and get the public to understand what's behind that legislation and only with a dialogue with your constituency can you really succeed in initiating a policy," the Efrat mayor explained to The Jerusalem Post.
Hours after the letter was published, Herzog announced his five-point plan to launch a dialogue between the two sides. "I know for a fact that our letter was definitely a tailwind for what he said in his press release," said Revivi.
"Since then the discussion among the mayors is still how can we influence the parties involved to start a real dialogue between themselves because we're all following with great concern where the protest is going, the lack of dialogue among the people."
Beit El Mayor Shay Alon stressed to the Post that while he is in favor of reform in the judicial system, he is disturbed by the situation created by the groups at the extremes of the political spectrum. “I believe a lot in bringing people together,” said the Beit El leader. “I’m not saying not to do [the reform], but to be attentive and to talk. That is why I signed [the letter]. Unity is very important in the State of Israel.”
Alon noted cases in which the Supreme Court ruled to demolish buildings and neighborhoods in Beit El, saying “I know the bad side of the judicial system. The judicial system is necessary, but it needs to be more balanced.” Alon added that most of the local authorities who signed the letter are in favor of reform in the judicial system.
The majority of voters in Efrat and in Beit El, as well as in a number of the other cities that signed the letter, voted for parties that are promoting the reform, such as the Likud and Religious Zionist parties. Revivi says he personally got a lot of positive feedback for the letter, although there were some people who called the leaders "naive" for thinking the protests are actually against the reform.
One of the main sticking points blocking the start of dialogue is a demand by the opposition that the coalition pause the legislative process of the reform as a precondition to talks, while the coalition insists that it will not pause the reform and that there is plenty of time to talk before the second and third readings of the law.
A possible solution
One possible solution for the crisis suggested by Revivi is that the Basic Law: The President of the State be amended to allow the president to freeze the enforcement of controversial laws that have been passed into law for six months to allow time for dialogue between the sides.
Revivi explained that this solution would lessen the fears that the legislation was going to be passed without any changes and place the matter in a different framework which would give the president the power to pause the implementation of the law and give room for dialogue.
Alon expressed his appreciation for the continued efforts by Herzog to launch a dialogue between the parties, noting that the president was working “day and night” to find a solution.
In response to a question about if the vote on Monday night scuttles the chances for dialogue, Revivi stated that "those who want to see it as an open opportunity to start the dialogue will look at it that way, each party looks at it in the way they want to do it."
"There's definitely time until the second and third reading when the parties should get into a room and have the negotiations that they need to and try and reduce the levels of hate and anger between the two different sides, because at the end of the day the public will have to bear the trauma of this round of threats which won't do any good for society in Israel."
Revivi noted that the current reform is very similar to other proposals put forward by past governments. "At the end of the day it seems that there's no real big argument because the reform was suggested by different parties, different leaders, at different times. To make that into something which there is a dispute over is not really having a meaningful discussion about the reform that is being suggested."
Alon expressed hopes that a dialogue could be launched, but added that he doubted that it would happen with the current attitude of the parties, saying that “everyone is on the treetops and no one is willing to come down.”
The Beit El mayor added that he believes National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz could be open to dialogue as members of his party have supported similar reform proposals in the past, but that Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid continues to reject the option of talks because of the fear that it could be seen as reconciling with the coalition. “He doesn’t want to reach a solution, he wants to lead a fight until the end.”
Concerning the protests against the reform that have been taking place weekly throughout the country, Revivi stressed that "we need to be more aware of the manipulations that some of the parties are doing over our heads and using our voices in the protest and basically try and have a more factual argument instead of just adopting the slogans and things being thrown into the air when sometimes they're not really related to the actual discussion about the actual reform."
The Efrat leader is set to meet with the president on Wednesday in order to discuss further ways to spark dialogue between the two sides.