National Unity's negotiating team will resume talk over the government's judicial reforms if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stops the one-sided legislation to repeal the courts' use of the Reasonableness Standard, chairman MK Benny Gantz said in a press conference on Thursday.
"I call on Netanyahu to stop the one-sided legislation and renew already today the talks at the president's residence, if not for democracy, if not for security, if not for the economy, then for the wholeness of the people of Israel and to prevent bloodshed," Gantz said, in his first public remarks after protest broke out on Wednesday night following a speech in which outgoing Tel Aviv Police chief Ami Eshed accused the government of attempting to "grossly intervene" in his treatment of weekly protests in Tel Aviv and demanding that he use more force against protestors.
The speech marks a shift in Gantz's message regarding the talks at the President's Residence, which stopped last month after the coalition attempted to delay the formation of the Judicial Selection Committee by not electing the committee's two representatives. In recent weeks, the National Unity chairman said that the talks would only resume if the remaining vacancies on the Judicial Selection Committee are filled. However, his message on Thursday implied that this was no longer a precondition to rejoining the talks.
Gantz accused the prime minister of repeatedly choosing "petty politics" in order to keep his coalition quiet, at the expense of the "people of Israel and the State of Israel."
"When we encounter more difficult incidents and god forbid bloodshed, Netanyahu cannot say that he did not know. When he puts the security of the citizens of Israel in the hands of Ben-Gvir, he is abandoning them," Gantz said.
"Netanyahu speaks about 'responsibility' and legislates wildly; speaks about 'softening' [the reform], but continues the judicial overhaul in segments.
"He sees that the violence is increasing – pistols are being drawn, attempts to trample protestors, tension between us that continues to grow – and he continues in this dangerous path that will bring us to a collision, and, god forbid, to civil war.
"When people bleed in the streets, the responsibility will first and foremost be his," Gantz charged.
The National Unity chairman added that if the judicial reforms pass, they will be canceled immediately after the next election – and would serve as a stain on Israel's history. He concluded by stressing that while the protesters were the real buffer against the reforms, they must not resort to violence and heed the police's directives.
Politicians respond to Gantz's statements
The Likud responded in a statement soon after to Gantz's speech.
"It is too bad that Benny Gantz has not listened to the heads of the coalition, who called for months to reach agreements. Instead, he wasted time and eventually broke under the pressure of the heads of the protest movements, and backed away from understandings that nearly became agreements, and abandoned the talks at the President's Residence. Benny Gantz should not be trusted. He is a hostage of the protests and does not want or is not capable of arriving at any agreements. His only purpose is to waste more time."
National Unity responded in a statement of its own, "We propose that the Likud, which chose to blow up the talks and tear apart Israel society. Stop harming the state of Israel and people of Israel – and return to the talks. The responsibility for the results, and god forbid for bloodshed – is on Netanyahu."
Opposition party Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman also criticized Gantz.
"Enough calling for fake dialogue. The opposition's national responsibility requires that it stands clearly against the halakhic and messianic government, and against the predatory legislation that is leading us in the direction of dark regimes," Liberman wrote on Twitter, adding that it was "simply irresponsible" to "turn the opposition in to a fig leaf for the government's steps," and to "legitimize legislation that is being advanced piece by piece."
Liberman said that the country needed a clear demand for a constitution that separates religion and state, and called on the Zionist opposition parties to create a forum to "formulate a constitution ahead of a regime change in the next election."