Second round of judicial reform negotiations take place at President's Residence

The meeting lasted two hours, and a presidential statement said it was held in "good spirits."

 President Isaac Herzog leads the first round of judicial reform negotiations in the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 28, 2023 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog leads the first round of judicial reform negotiations in the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 28, 2023
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Judicial reform negotiating teams representing the coalition, Yesh Atid and National Unity met at President Isaac Herzog's residence on Monday, the second such meeting since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last Monday that his coalition was delaying legislation until after the Knesset's Passover recess that would give the coalition a majority in the Judicial Selection Committee.

The meeting lasted two hours. It was held in "good spirits," and the sides "expressed both their existing pains and concerns and their honest intention to attempt to arrive at as broad an agreement as possible," according to a statement put out by the President's Residence.

During the coming week the teams will conduct additional meetings, according to the statement.

National Unity said in a statement after the meeting that party had requested that the sides first focus on the Judicial Selection Committee bill, since it was "at the heart of the dispute." Later on, the party's team will present additional proposals that will maintain the court system's independence while increasing diversity and improving the quality of service, according to the statement.

The party added that it intends to maintain transparency and update the public regarding the talks. National Unity's negotiating team along with party chairman MK Benny Gantz has also began consulting experts and senior researchers in order to formulate "additional ideas" that will enable arrival at broad agreements while safeguarding democracy." National Unity also added that it would work in coordination with Yesh Atid's negotiating team.

 MK Simcha Rotman, Head of the Constitution Committee, at a committee vote on the judicial reform legislation at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem on March 5, 2023.  (credit: ERIK MARMOR/FLASH90) MK Simcha Rotman, Head of the Constitution Committee, at a committee vote on the judicial reform legislation at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem on March 5, 2023. (credit: ERIK MARMOR/FLASH90)

Yesh Atid's team put out a statement of its own after the meeting.

"The meeting dealt extensively with complicated topics. The joint meeting sharpens the distance that needs to be covered and we are determined to keep fighting for a Jewish, democratic and strong Israel," Yesh Atid said.

"We placed on the table the Declaration of Independence as the basis of a constitution that will anchor the rights and values and allow a joint existence and common good for all parts of the nation," the party added.

Three Likud members joined the party's negotiating team on Monday: Education Minister Yoav Kisch and MKs Hanoch Milvetsky and Keti Shitrit. Milvetsky wrote on Twitter after the meeting that he was encouraged, and had been impressed with the "honesty, good intentions and joint understanding that agreement is better than decisive victory."

"We will continue turning over every stone in order to create broad agreement," Milvetsky added.

In addition to Kisch, Shitrit and Milvetsky, the coalition's negotiating team consists of Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs, Dr. Aviad Bakshi, head of the legal department at the Kohelet Forum, and Professor Talia Einhorn.

Fuchs explained on Monday afternoon that Einhorn and Bakshi were constitutional law professionals whose role is to assist the politicians in thinking through some of the topics, and were not representatives of a specific party. Fuchs added that he, too, agreed that the meeting was held in "good spirits," adding that it dealt with the framework for the negotiations, and not the content.

According to Maariv, the sides decided that until the end of Passover the debates will be held mostly between law experts, whose role will be to map out the main points of argument, the positions on each side and possible compromises. This will be the basis of a document that the politicians will then begin to debate after Passover, with the hope of reaching an agreement before the Knesset convenes for its summer session on April 30.

National Unity's negotiating team consists of MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Chili Tropper, Orit Farkash-HaCohen and Attorney Ronen Aviani.

Yesh Atid's negotiating team consists of MKs Orna Barbivay and Karin Elharar, former Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office Naama Schultz and Attorney Oded Gazit.

Yesh Atid and National Unity's teams met ahead of the meeting with the coalition in order to coordinate their positions. The two parties said in a joint statement that they would "act together on for a Jewish, democratic and strong Israel," adding that the negotiating teams were "willing to arrive at as broad agreements as possible with the other negotiating teams, but will not compromise over the judicial system's independence and the principles of democracy.

Meanwhile, Labor's negotiating team met on Monday morning with representatives of the 'black robes' campaign group representing lawyers who are opposed to the judicial reforms.

Labor says both sides discussed red lines

Labor said in a statement that the sides "discussed common red lines for the continuation of talks at the President's Residence.

"Among the key points of agreement is preventing the politicization of the judicial appointments committee and allowing professionals on the committee, including representatives of the Bar Association, in order to preserve the independence of the judicial system," according to the statement.

In the days ahead, Labor's negotiating team will continue to meet with representatives of the protests.

Labor announced earlier on Monday that it opposed increasing the coalition's representation on the judicial appointments committee.

"This is a dangerous process that will eventually turn the committee from a professional into a political committee, with deals and bargains that will seriously damage the independence of the court and its professionalism, and without a doubt the public's trust in the court," the party said in a statement.

"The Labor team expresses its firm opposition to this concession on the part of the opposition factions and expects them not to allow themselves to irreversibly harm the judicial appointments committee and thus the independence of the court," the party said.