Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders of the other coalition parties met on Sunday to plan the continuation of judicial reform legislation, after the prime minister said that parts of the reform would advance unilaterally after the opposition froze talks at the President’s Residence last week.
The coalition leaders are reportedly considering passing two parts of the reform by the end of the Knesset’s summer session on July 31.
The first would redefine the Supreme Court’s use of the “reasonableness factor” when evaluating government policies. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said ahead of his Religious Zionist Party’s meeting on Monday that he had directed his fellow party member, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Simcha Rothman, to begin already on Wednesday the legislative process for a law that would redefine the “reasonableness factor” based on a paper written by Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg.
According to Sohlberg, the court may use the “reasonableness factor” regarding administrative decisions made within specific government ministries, but it cannot apply it to decisions or appointments made by the cabinet as a whole.
The High Court used the “reasonableness factor” in January as an impetus to strike down the appointment of Shas chairman MK Arye Deri as a minister despite his multiple criminal convictions. A redefinition of the “reasonableness factor” may bar the Supreme Court from intervening if Netanyahu decides to reappoint him.
The second part of the reform that the coalition is considering passing would redefine the role and powers of the attorney-general in the government and ministerial legal advisers in each ministry.
While the details have yet to emerge, a “narrow” version of this law would enable ministers to use their own representation in court in challenges against their policies, in cases where the attorney-general sides with the challengers. A broader version of the law would make it easier for ministers to fire and hire legal advisers, and could even change the status of their legal opinions from being legally binding to being merely a recommendation.
Lapid, Gantz accused Netanyahu of violating commitments to Herzog
Meanwhile, opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid and National Unity chairman MK Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of violating commitments to President Isaac Herzog that the Knesset would choose its two representatives on the Judicial Selection Committee on Wednesday. According to Lapid and Gantz, Netanyahu had promised that a representative from the coalition and opposition would be chosen, and that the committee would begin to operate.
The prime minister’s pivot toward a failed attempt to postpone the vote for a month showed that he had “lost control” over his “extreme” partners, and that was why he was launching one-sided legislation, Lapid told the media ahead of his party’s weekly meeting on Monday.
“We will not sit at the President’s Residence just so that Netanyahu can say on CNN that there are talks, while [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin passes laws that ruin our democracy,” Lapid said.
“Netanyahu is an irresponsible person, but that does not mean that I have to be,” he said. “There are no agreements, and there were no agreements. The only reason Netanyahu is returning to one-sided legislation is because he has lost control over the coalition; lost control over Yariv Levin.”
The opposition leader’s denial that any agreements had been reached was a response to accusations by Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman that Lapid and Gantz had struck a deal with Netanyahu whereby they would agree to have Deri, a chief Netanyahu ally, return to the government, in exchange for the prime minister’s agreement to appoint opposition candidate MK Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid) to the Judicial Selection Committee.
“I call on Netanyahu to stop, finish forming the Judicial Selection Committee, and then – and only then – will we be able to return to talks at the President’s Residence, and remain there until we reach real agreements that will fix what needs fixing in the judicial system, without harming Israeli society,” Lapid said, adding that if the prime minister refuses to convene the committee, he would appeal to the Supreme Court.
Gantz said ahead of his party’s weekly meeting on Monday that Netanyahu’s announcement on Sunday to push forward with parts of the judicial reform unilaterally but responsibly was a “logical fallacy.”
“Advancing one-sidedly in the judicial overhaul legislation is not a responsible step – it is a step that is damaging to Israeli society, economy, security and democracy,” Gantz said.
“One-sided legislation will turn into a one-sided disengagement by Netanyahu from the people – a disengagement that will end in failure.”
Herzog responded to the decision, stating: “I have always believed, and today more than ever, that negotiations are the best solution for the State of Israel.
“I am calling again” for the relevant parties “to show national responsibility and to continue the fruitful and relevant discussions that have taken place in recent months under the auspices of the President’s Residence,” Herzog said. “These were practical, in-depth and serious conversations that gave a real perspective. They are the best way to stop the rift and division in the nation.
“It is important for me to emphasize that, in the talks that took place under my auspices, no binding drafts were forwarded on behalf of the President’s Residence to any of the parties and of course no full agreements were reached on any issue,” the president said.
“I recommend not harming the fairness and integrity of the process. I believe that agreements can be reached and that even core issues can be settled through dialogue and peaceful means. This is how we should behave towards our common future.”