Herzog meets with Ra'am, Hadash-Ta'al for judicial reform negotiations

President Herzog is set to meet with faction leaders to discuss impending negotiations regarding the next steps in judicial reform negotiations.

 Ra'am Party leader Mansour Abbas meets with President Isaac Herzog to present his party's recommendation for prime minister, November 10, 2022. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Ra'am Party leader Mansour Abbas meets with President Isaac Herzog to present his party's recommendation for prime minister, November 10, 2022.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog met on Wednesday with representatives of Ra'am, Hadash-Ta'al and Labor, as part of a round of meetings to kick off negotiations over reforms of Israel's judicial system.

The president is scheduled to meet with representatives of Labor on Wednesday as well.

The meetings came after the president hosted teams representing the coalition and opposition parties National Unity and Yesh Atid on Tuesday evening.

The meetings were closed to the media.

 Hadash leader MK Ayman Odeh, Ta'al leader MK Ahmad Tibi (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) Hadash leader MK Ayman Odeh, Ta'al leader MK Ahmad Tibi (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Hadash-Ta'al laid out its position regarding the negotiation in a statement following the meeting.

"We oppose the transparent attempts to derail the protests. Broadening the democratic space is a worthy goal, but we will not agree to go backwards. This is the hour to establish a full and equal democracy and not suffice with returning to the status-quo," the party said.

The situation where the Arab public suffers from systemic discrimination and where millions of Palestinians live under occupation is not democratic at its core. Democracy needs to anchor equality in its Basic Laws, [and] cancel legislation that discriminates against the Arab public, led by the Nation-State Law.

"Democracy is social justice for all and equal national and civil rights. We have no trust in Netanyahu's suspension [of the reform] announcement due to past experience.

"Hadash-Ta'al warned against forming a private militia commanded by the convicted criminal Ben-Gvir which will mostly harm Arabs, but will also turn against the protestors. Its formation must be blocked with all possible power as part of the fight against the judicial overhaul," the party said.

Contrary to the other parties, Hadash-Ta'al's delegation included all of its MKs: Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi, Aida Touma-Sliman, Ofer Cassif and Youssef Atauna.

Labor Party representatives agree to negotiate 

Labor's representatives are MKs Gilad Kariv and Efrat Rayten, former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn and Dr. Tamar Hostovsky-Brandes.

"We thank the President of the State of Israel for his leading role in trying to forge broad understandings and agreements that will replace the dangerous legislative proposals promoted so far by the coalition," Labor said in a statement after its meeting with the president.

"We came to make sure, from the inside, that the judicial overthrow laws do not come back to the Knesset through the back door and to make sure that the position of the democratic camp, which took to the streets in its hundreds of thousands, will also be heard behind these doors.

"In the discussion the party's position was presented, according to which the constitutional protection of human rights in Israel and the independence of the judicial system must be guaranteed first and foremost, alongside increasing the access of Israeli citizens to justice and legal remedies. Also, the demand to completely shelve the judicial overthrow proposals.

"The Labor Party will continue to serve as the gatekeeper of democratic values, in whose name hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens have taken to the streets. The Labor Party will also fulfill this role in the talks conducted under the auspices of the President of the State. We will make sure to conduct ourselves with complete transparency, as we have done so far, and to be in continuous and comprehensive dialogue with the leaders of the public protest, civil society and legal and political science experts," the party concluded.

Opposition party Yisrael Beytenu said on Wednesday that it would not join the talks until the coalition retracted the controversial bill that gives the coalition a majority in Israel's Judicial Appointments Committee from the Knesset floor. The bill needs to pass its second and third readings on the Knesset floor in order to pass into law. Yisrael Beytenu claimed the coalition could achieve this within 24 hours, and therefore was akin to "holding a gun to the opposition's head."

Will negotiations in Knesset continue?

The bill passed its preparation in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday morning, and was sent to the Knesset floor on Monday at 6:00 p.m., before Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the legislation freeze. However, an announcement on Tuesday morning that the bill had been placed on the Knesset floor irked the opposition, and Yisrael Beytenu and others claimed that this constituted a violation of the freeze. The party said it would not join negotiations until the bill returns to the committee.

Yisrael Beytenu still announced a negotiating team, which consists of MK Oded Forrer, former MKs Alex Kushnir and Limor Magen-Tellem, and attorney Guy Wagner.

Labor initially expressed similar positions on Tuesday. However, on Tuesday evening the party announced that "precisely because it did not trust Netanyahu," it was sending a team to the President's Residence to take part in the negotiations.

A screenshot of a text message from Justice Minister Yariv Levin to a supporter circulated on social media on Wednesday. Levin writes that he would do the "utmost effort" to pass the judicial reform legislation in the next Knesset session in the summer and that protests will be organized across the country in order to show "what the majority of the public wants."The president added that he would work "in full cooperation with all of the political and public systems."

"Let us hope that those who harmed us from within will cease doing so," the justice minister added, likely hinting to fellow Likud MKs who supported the legislation freeze.

Lapid shared on Twitter a screenshot of the text message and wrote, "For those who asked why I am so suspicious … " [ellipses in source]. "Netanyahu needs to clarify that he did not consent to this message, because his justice minister says that the negotiations at the President's Residence are a deception."

Levin responded, "Another fake tweet by Yair Lapid who is attempting to escape from agreements. What I said was completely clear – the time has come for our voice to be heard in protests, and foot-dragging should be avoided and the legislation should be completed in the next [Knesset] term. I hope that the legislation will be brought with broad consensus, and that the dialogue will succeed."

Successful first round of negotiations

The first round of negotiations on Tuesday evening concluded after one hour and was held in "good spirits," the President's Residence announced.

National Unity was the first to announce its negotiating team, which consists of MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Chili Tropper, Orit Farkash-HaCohen and Attorney Ronen Aviani.

Lapid announced on Tuesday morning that his team will consist of MKs Orna Barbivai and Karin Elharar, former Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office Naama Schultz and Attorney Oded Gazit.

The Likud's team of negotiators included Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs and Dr. Aviad Bakshi, head of the legal department at the Kohelet Forum, and Professor Talia Einhorn, the party said on Tuesday afternoon.

Herzog referred to the negotiations at an event at Yad Vashem on Tuesday, and expressed his hope that they will "calm the spirits, lower the flames and lead to positive results with a broad agreement."

The president added that he would work "in full cooperation with all of the political and public systems."

Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Religious Zionist Party, Yehuda Vald, expressed skepticism about the negotiations and especially the role of President Herzog.

"The president is unfortunately not objective. We need to talk and reach a balanced outline. But without him, he is part of the problem, not the solution."

Likud MK Hanoch Milvetsky also questioned the location of the negotiations, saying on Kan Radio on Tuesday that the negotiations should be held at the Knesset and not the President's Residence, and that they should be broadcast live.

"The president's attempt to take for himself what clearly belongs to the Knesset is incorrect," Milvetzky said.