The first day of the Jewish holiday of Purim in Israel started on a celebratory note.
After ten weeks of a political crisis and mass protests, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said a compromise over the government’s judicial reforms is “closer than ever.”
“We are closer than ever to the possibility of an agreed outline. There are agreements behind the scenes on most things. Now it depends on our national leadership, the coalition and the opposition, who will manage to rise to the magnitude of the moment, who will understand the terrible alternative that is hidden in the situation beyond the door, and who will put the country and the citizens above everything else,” Herzog told a crowd of local mayors and councilmen.
Herzog’s suggested compromise is supposed to address the concerns presented by both political sides.
Earlier in the day, the president noted that his initiative includes “diversity of the judiciary” to reflect the different opinions and communities in the country. At the same time, it would determine the balance between the authorities, protect democracy and human rights, at all costs, and maintain the independence of the judicial system.
A few hours after Herzog delivered his remarks, opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity party leader Benny Gantz threw cold water on the momentary breakthrough.
While hailing Herzog’s efforts to reach a broad understanding, they claimed that “Israel is on the brink of a national emergency” and, in a joint statement, refused to negotiate a compromise with the governmental coalition for long as the legislation process continues.
“Every reaching out of our hand for the unity of Israel was knocked down and refused,” they claimed. “In order to reach an honest and effective dialogue that will preserve the Israeli democracy and the unity of the people, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu must announce an absolute, comprehensive and real halt to the legislative process,” adding that “all attempts at shortcuts are a trampling of real dialogue.”
Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich posted a response to the joint statement on social media, saying, “Once again, Lapid and Gantz have shown disrespect to the president, proving that they have no intention to hold a dialogue or to compromise.”
“Their protest is purely political and is meant to sow chaos and hurt the State of Israel in order to topple the right-wing government and go to a sixth election. This is not going to happen. We will overhaul what needs to be fixed in the judicial system – with the help of God – and continue to work for the people of Israel,” Smotrich said.
Israeli news channels 12 and 13 reported that Netanyahu is open to halting the reform process and to compromising with the opposition, but that he finds himself under pressure from Justice Minister Yariv Levin not to do so. Levin was the initiator of the reforms’ framework and put it forward on the government’s behalf.
Reportedly at the heart of the dispute between Netanyahu and Levin lies a proposed compromise over the process by which Israeli High Court judges are selected.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.