Judicial Overhaul Weakens Israeli Coalition

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Policy Briefs Program

May 2, 2023

On Friday, April 28, an Israeli coalition source revealed that if Netanyahu’s judicial negotiations fail, he “will face an ultimatum… from his own ruling bloc, which will threaten to abandon him if he does not advance some form of judicial shakeup.” Current polls indicate that if elections were held today, Netanyahu’s government would lose 18 of its 64 seats. As national protests against the judicial reform continue, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi cites the country’s legal reform as the reason Prime Minister Netanyahu has not been invited to the White House. 

The recent poll, published by Maariv Newspaper, cites that Netanyahu’s coalition would lose its majority if elections were held today, a statistic that seems to have stalled Netanyahu’s planned legal forms. Written in Al-Monitor, “In the general calculation of Knesset seats to both camps – the survey offers the opposition 70 seats, compared to only 50 for the current coalition… This is an enormous challenge for Netanyahu within his own Likud party and the right-wing electorate at large. They expected him to spearhead the judicial reform to counter the judiciary’s amassing of power at the expense of the legislature and government.”

This political blowback in the polls has invoked pressure from Netanyahu’s own coalition, who threatened to abandon support for Netanyahu if the judicial reforms are not passed. Underscored in The Times of Israel, “Netanyahu will then be forced to choose between his electoral base or those in Israel and abroad warning of the overhaul’s implications in the security, economic and legal fields… The Kan public broadcaster quoted a source close to Netanyahu who said he was enthusiastic about the crowd size at the Jerusalem rally but recognizes that he’ll now have to ‘give something’ both to Justice Minister Yariv Levin — who has led the overhaul — and to his own supporters who want to see the original proposals enacted. The source speculated that Netanyahu will agree to offer ‘something’ by the end of July, when the Knesset next recesses.”

Negotiations aimed at reaching a consensus on the reforms continued into this week. Israel National News quoted Netanyahu’s analysis of pro-government demonstrations: “We saw the support [for the judicial reforms] during the massive Thursday demonstration as well as the demonstrations on the other side. This is evidence of our vibrant democracy. We are determined to reach as broad an agreement as possible on the judicial reform that is at the heart of the public dispute in Israel…I believe that with the good will and genuine willingness of both parties – it is possible to reach these agreements.”

However, other Knesset members are less optimistic about the judicial negotiations. Profiled in Haaretz, National Unity Party chair and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz said “there has been ‘no progress’ on negotiations with the Netanyahu government over the judicial overhaul legislation. ‘The talks at the President’s Residence, although they are being held in a good and respectful manner, haven’t seen progress on any of the issues – especially the issue of the judicial appointments’ committee’… Negotiating teams from the government coalition and opposition first met at the end of March to discuss technical issues, and re-convened in mid-April to discuss the details of the laws submitted to the Knesset.” 

Tens of thousands of citizens have participated in demonstrations for and against the reforms throughout several months. Expressed in Ahram Online, “With parliament due to hold an opening session Monday after a recess, both backers of the reform and its detractors have sought to keep up the pressure on politicians. The architect of the reform, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, addressed thousands of supporters who rallied in Jerusalem on Thursday. The pro-reform protest was also attended by far-right Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, who vowed the government will not ‘give up’ on the package.
Adding to his political challenges, Netanyahu’s corruption trial has resumed. Al Arabiya noted: “Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate scandals involving powerful media moguls and wealthy associates. He denies wrongdoing. Critics say that Netanyahu is driven to weaken the courts and change the judicial system as a way to open an escape route from his trial, claims he dismisses as untrue. The corruption charges also have been at the center of a protracted political crisis that sent Israelis to the polls five times in less than four years — each vote essentially a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule…Under Israeli law, the prime minister has no obligation to step aside while on trial.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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