How a leak killed President Isaac Herzog's judicial reform compromise

The report caused a new wave of dismissals and condemnations from within both the coalition and the opposition.

 Benny Gantz addresses the crowd, September 5, 2023 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Benny Gantz addresses the crowd, September 5, 2023
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

The compromise outline reported on Monday by N12 was correct but probably won’t work out now, a source close to the negotiations said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had okayed the leaked outline with President Isaac Herzog and attempts were being made to get an agreement from the opposition before the story broke. National Unity leader Benny Gantz was the focus for negotiators as opposed to opposition leader Yair Lapid, who the source said is more complicated.

"I don't know if Netanyahu is the partner of the extremists out of his own interests or whether he is held hostage by them out of weakness"

Benny Gantz

Gantz confirmed that he had been approached with the outline and hadn’t dismissed it out of hand.

The outline would have the coalition legislating a new and more muted law to cancel the reasonableness standard and freezing legislation of the judicial reform for a year-and-a-half. The Judicial Selection Committee would see no changes to its makeup and would continue to require a seven of nine majority instead of the seven of 11 that the reform proposes.

A statement from the President’s Residence said in response only that Herzog had been holding talks with leaders in both the coalition and the opposition in the past week in an ongoing effort to reach an agreement.

 MK BENNY GANTZ addresses the Knesset plenum last month.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK BENNY GANTZ addresses the Knesset plenum last month. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Likud denied the reports as soon as they came out on Monday and then repeated the denial again on Tuesday morning, although later in the day, Netanyahu called on Gantz to come to an agreement.

“We have many differences, but we also have a lot in common,” he said. “We both fought on the battlefield against a common enemy. And today the majority of the people expect us to do something for a common goal. They want us to come to an agreement.

“But in order to reach agreements you have to do one simple thing: put aside all the preconditions, all the obstacles, enter the room and talk.”

In response, Gantz said that “The outline that was presented and was reported in the media isn’t our dream outline. We were ready to debate it as a base in order to stop the judicial overhaul and the harm to the State of Israel.”

His team was considering accepting the outline with the understanding that if and when they made it back into the government, they would lead a legislative process that would “strengthen the rule of law and anchor the rules of the game in broad agreements.”

He added that his team had analyzed the proposal in detail and that while there was much to discuss, it was clear that extremists in the government were an obstacle.

“I don’t know if Netanyahu is the partner of the extremists out of his own interests or whether he is held hostage by them out of weakness,” he said. “But what is clear is that Israel is being ruled by an extreme minority government.

”He ended by saying that “if in the future, the moderate people in the coalition are strengthened,” then his party would be ready to go back to negotiations and make a real effort to agree.

This confirmation contradicted both the Likud denials and Justice Minister Yariv Levin who told multiple radio stations that there was no accuracy to reports on the outline and that Netanyahu hadn’t changed his stance on the judicial reform. He also dismissed the possibility of Netanyahu discussing compromises with Herzog without telling him.

“The prime minister’s and my work over the years has been very close, and I don’t think that there is a chance that such a thing would happen,” he said. “The prime minister has never done anything in relation to what I work on without my knowledge.”

Still, the source said that people involved in the negotiations were eager to have a compromise settled soon to avoid reaching the High Court of Justice hearings on the law to cancel the reasonableness standard and the Judicial Selection Committee later this month.

The government’s second request to postpone the reasonableness standard law hearing on September 12 was rejected by the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.

As with the previous request to delay the hearing, the court said that it wasn’t possible to move the hearing due to scheduling issues involved with assembling all 15 of the justices to hear the petitions.

The court did agree to give the respondents more time to file responses to the petitions. They would also be able to provide full written arguments after the hearing if needed.

The compromise could also benefit Netanyahu who would then be able to go to the US later in September and show the American leadership that the domestic crisis surrounding the resource had been somewhat settled.

The revelation of the compromise was met with pessimism and dismissal from both sides of the political spectrum.

On Monday evening, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted that “the six votes of Otzma Yehudit will be against giving in if the [outline] is brought up for a vote.”

Meanwhile, members of the opposition accused the coalition of purposely leaking the report to stop the compromise from taking effect, and Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu said they would not support it.

In his address to Jewish community representatives, Herzog said that there are times during periods of crisis when leaders have the rare opportunity to reach out and come to an agreement. “This is one of those times. We are on the brink of Rosh Hashanah and the festivals of Tishrei. We are in a state of deep crisis – a crisis that has been going on for the past nine months. It is a crisis that impacts on our lives, our security, our economy, our society and our behavior. Enough!”

Herzog emphasized the need for broader mutual understanding, adding that he believed it was possible, and that it will not affect court or Knesset schedules. What it did affect, he said, was reality and the obligation to make a major effort to reach consensus.

Herzog calls for responsibility

The president called on Israel’s leadership to demonstrate responsibility, to look reality in the eye, to reach out to each other, and to come to an agreement on judicial reform, the relationship between the government, the legislature, and the judiciary, and the relationship between municipalities and the different authorities.

Herzog reiterated that all he has done in recent weeks is with the aim of safeguarding democracy.

Hopes for the compromise passing, however, are not high now as the more extreme members of the coalition could make it impossible and may have ruined the chances for any future outlines the source said.

Michael Starr and Greer Fay-Cashman contributed to this report.