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Netanyahu says Israel will move ahead on contentious judicial overhaul plan after talks crumble

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of two Israeli flags
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem on Sunday.
(Ohad Zwigenberg / Associated Press)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday his government intends to move ahead on contentious plans to change the country’s judicial system after talks aimed at finding a compromise solution appeared to be crumbling.

The government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises ever earlier this year. Negotiations between the government and opposition parties somewhat alleviated the crisis with attempts to find a middle ground over proposed changes to the country’s justice system.

Those talks were jolted last week over a crisis surrounding the powerful regular committee responsible for picking the country’s judges. Opposition leaders said negotiations were frozen until the committee is formed.

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At a meeting of his Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said the opposition hadn’t been negotiating in good faith and that his government would move ahead cautiously on the overhaul.

“This week, we will begin the practical steps. We will do them in a measured way, responsibly, but in accordance with the mandate we received to make corrections to the justice system,” he said.

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Netanyahu put the overhaul on hold in March after mass protests erupted in opposition to it. The decision to move ahead is likely to flare tensions and fuel the protest movement that has continued to demonstrate each Saturday, despite the plan being paused.

Protest leaders said they were ready for another round of demonstrations that would make sure “every attempt to harm Israel’s democratic justice system will fail.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose party had been negotiating with Netanyahu, said moving ahead unilaterally on the plan “will critically harm the economy, endanger security and rip the Israeli people to shreds.”

Netanyahu’s government, composed of ultranationalist and ultrareligious parties, faced harsh opposition to the overhaul plan when it was announced earlier this year. Leading economists, top legal officials and former defense officials warned of dangerous consequences to the country’s future. Even Israel’s chief international ally, the U.S., expressed concern.

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The government says the plan is necessary to restore power to elected officials and weaken, what it says, is an interventionist Supreme Court.

Critics say the plan would upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and push the country toward authoritarianism.

Netanyahu backed down after mass spontaneous protests erupted and a general strike was called for after he fired his defense minister who dissented from the plan over widespread threats by military reservists to not show up for duty if the overhaul was approved.

The committee for appointing judges — which, among other things, approves the makeup of the Supreme Court — has been a central battleground in the overhaul plan.

Both the governing coalition and the opposition traditionally are represented on the nine-member committee. But proponents of the overhaul had demanded that the coalition control both positions, drawing accusations that Netanyahu and his allies were trying to stack the judiciary with cronies.

Last week, the Parliament appointed the opposition representative to the committee but the second vacancy was not filled, prompting a delay to when the committee can resume its work.

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Each side accused the other of blowing up the talks with the results of the committee appointments.

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