Reactions to President Isaac Herzog’s judicial reform negotiation plan on Monday indicate that it may stall over the same issue as his previous proposals: Namely, that both sides in the debate believe they can achieve political victory without compromising.
There have been several notable attempts to entice anti-reform and pro-reform camps to negotiate a solution to the conflict surrounding the legal system overhaul proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the beginning of the year.
In mid-February, Herzog presented his first five-point plan. On Sunday, four major labor associations issued a letter urging opposition and coalition leaders to try for broad agreement, as did bipartisan MKs. On Monday, Herzog convened an emergency meeting of local government authorities, announcing a new negotiation outline. On Tuesday, an outline was reportedly leaked that the president’s office quickly stated was not Herzog’s plan.
How did everyone react to the supposed Herzog judicial reform negotiation plan?
The reaction to all of these negotiation proposals has been extremely uniform: Opposition and protest leaders reject negotiation without the precondition of stopping the legislation.
Coalition leaders will meet at the President’s Residence but only if there is no freeze on the legislative process.
The repetitive nature of these responses indicates that there has been no change in the political calculus.
Labor head Merav Michaeli and other anti-reformist issued responses to Herzog’s Monday announcement, which all show that they still believe that they can achieve their maximalist demands using only protests.
“No compromise and no negotiation. Total cancellation,” Michaeli wrote. “Whoever tries to turn Israel into a dictatorship will meet a united and cohesive opposition. Until we win.”
“No compromise and no negotiation. Total cancellation. Whoever tries to turn Israel into a dictatorship will meet a united and cohesive opposition. Until we win.”Merav Michaeli
Other politicians and activists also used the rhetoric of victory and total cancellation of the reforms.
The coalition, meanwhile, refuses to budge from what it deems are essential values of the reform.
“We will continue to promote the legislation as planned, and we will continue to try to reach broad agreements just as we have done in recent months,” Levin and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman said on Tuesday.
A compromise is a tool utilized when a party cannot achieve its desired objectives alone. It must find a point between its maximalist demands and those of its opponents, so that both sides can achieve at least some of their objectives.
In the current situation, both sides have made it clear that they believe that they can achieve their desired objective with other means – and without compromise.
Anti-reformists have expressed repeatedly that they believe they can achieve full cancellation of the reform by pressuring political leaders with protests. Reformists believe they can pass the full reform plan through the normal legislative process, so there is no need to engage in reaching a compromise.
A mediator can only get two sides to talk if they believe there is more to be gained by doing so than by staying unitary.
If Herzog and other negotiation advocates made the parties believe that they could not win through unilateral action, they could get the camps to the table. Without a change in conditions, the calculus will not change, and it does not matter how many outlines, plans or open letters are presented.
If Herzog and negotiation advocates fail, then the natural outcome of escalating use of force to push maximalist positions may change the conditions. In recent days, Israel has seen violent clashes between protesters and police.
If both sides were to continue to invest in their main unilateral tool for achieving their objectives, it could result in severe injuries or even deaths. The specter of civil war and open violent conflict has been raised by many political figures, most recently former prime minister Naftali Bennett.
“When I previously spoke about the danger of the destruction of the Temple from within for the third time, there were those who thought I was exaggerating,” Bennett said on Tuesday. “It is appropriate that the two sides should show leadership, understand that they must compromise, and adopt the outline, in order to avoid civil war.”
Such an outcome would change the incentive structure and make negotiations more appealing, but the cost would be high.