Is the judicial reform negotiation camp gaining momentum? - analysis

Since the judicial reforms were announced at the beginning of the year, nine weeks of protests have seen two polarized camps form.

 The 'Agreement Tent' set up by Israelis encouraging for negotiations on the judicial reform. (photo credit: EIN PRAT ACADEMY FOR LEADERSHIP)
The 'Agreement Tent' set up by Israelis encouraging for negotiations on the judicial reform.

Judicial reform negotiations might begin at the President’s Residence on Tuesday but without preconditions, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Religious Zionist MK Simcha Rothman and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said in a joint statement in response to Sunday’s open letter from major organizations for the business sector calling for talks.

“From the first day, we said we were in favor of dialogue in an attempt to reach an understanding on the reform, and at least to reduce the controversy,” the statement, issued on Sunday, said.

“We believe that reform is essential for democracy, human rights and the economy. We respond to the call for talks without preconditions and call on others in the opposition to respond to the initiative and attend talks with the president on Tuesday.”

The Manufacturers Association of Israel, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, the Israel Builders Association and the Israeli High-Tech Association issued a call for opposition and coalition leaders to “be brave” and meet at the President’s Residence for negotiations without preconditions.

“Heads of the Israeli political system, it is your duty to show bravery, to sit around the table together, and advance to a solution that will get us out of the economic and social spiral we’ve fallen into and could get worse without an agreed solution,” the joint statement said. “End the crisis!”

The opposition did not like the coalition response

The response from Levin, Rothman and Smotrich was not well received by opposition members, decreasing the likelihood that talks would commence on Tuesday.

Yesh Atid decried the coalition statement as misleading. The party reiterated calls to stop the legislative process before meeting with President Isaac Herzog.

“On the same day that the members of the failed coalition instead of the state issue a false announcement about negotiations, they bring to the Knesset the override clause, the Impairment Law and the promotion of a law to appoint a serial criminal as a minister,” said Yesh Atid, referring to a bill that passed revision a vote in Rothman’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; to the bills in the Special Committee for Amendments to Basic Law: Government for a law changing terms for when the prime minister is medically unfit for office; and to a law preventing the High Court of Justice from interfering in ministerial appointments.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to make an offer, he should be proposing to stop the legislative process and voting on it.

“Instead of voting, we will go to the president’s house, we will announce that we’re staying there until the State of Israel has a constitution.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid

“Instead of voting, we will go to the president’s house, we will announce that we’re staying there until the State of Israel has a constitution,” said Lapid.

Labor leader MK Merav Michaeli said Netanyahu was under pressure as a result of the protests, and that talks would derail the movement.

“I repeat and call on my friends in the opposition: Don’t negotiate with Netanyahu about our democracy,” said Michaeli.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv, a member of the Law Committee, said the reformist leaders’ statement was intended to calm protests until the legislative process was completed by Passover, in early April.

“Levin and Rothman continue to close their eyes, call for negotiations while speeding up the legislation, refuse to take seriously the dozens of proposals presented in the committee in the last two months, and refrain from presenting in the Knesset the next steps in the justice minister’s plan,” said Kariv.

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar also dismissed the call for negotiations as legislation continued, describing the suggestion by Levin and Rothman as a ploy.

The Black Flag movement, one of the leading protest organizations, said no one would talk to Levin and Rothman without first freezing the legislative process.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana welcomed both the initiative and the responsiveness of the coalition.

“I am hopeful that elected officials from all parts of the Knesset will also respond to the initiative, and those who answered in the negative will also think twice. We have no other country,” said Ohana.

In a new initiative, an “agreement tent” was set up in front of the High Court to promote dialogue and broad agreement between the coalition and opposition. The tent was pitched by the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership, in partnership with several other movements and organizations, such as the Religious Kibbutz Movement, The Israeli Congress and Gesher.

“The encampment is established in the name of the Israeli majority that believes in the national existential necessity of forming agreements on the reform of the judicial system,” an Ein Prat statement said.

A representative of Ein Prat told The Jerusalem Post that groups were forming for and against the reforms, but that not enough were seeking a broad agreement. As dozens of religious and secular youths engaged in discussions at the site, the representative said both sides needed to go to “Camp David,” a reference to past talks brokered by the US between Israel and Egypt that led to the peace treaty in 1978 between the previously warring nations, and talks with the Palestinians that ended in failure in 2000. She said that members of the organization were personally for reform, but that it needed to be done without force – whether force of legislation or force of protest.

National Unity MK Chili Tropper visited the tent on Sunday as part of the kickoff for a joint letter from MKs, including Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, calling for negotiations.

“The voice in the middle doesn’t have to agree,” said Tropper, “it has to demand dialogue.”