Tensions within the Netanyahu government surfaced during the chaotic week
For a few hours Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial push to overhaul Israel’s judiciary appeared to be unraveling at the end of a chaotic week that exposed tensions in his far-right coalition.
Yoav Gallant, the defense minister and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he would make a public statement and was widely expected to become the first minister to call for a halt to the overhaul that has plunged Israel into its largest country. years of political crisis.
But Gallant’s statement never came. After being summoned by Netanyahu and attacked by hardliners in the far-right governing coalition, he said he would “postpone”. Netanyahu instead gave a speech in which he pledged next week to push ahead with one of the most controversial parts of the overhaul, which critics fear will destroy Israel’s checks and balances.
Even though Gallant never spoke, the episode highlighted simmering divisions within Netanyahu’s coalition and consternation within the Israeli military establishment over the impact of the overhaul.
The proposals sparked the biggest wave of protests in Israel in a decade, as the fight for justice became a battle for the very nature of Israel and drew protesters from many walks of life, including thousands of Israeli army reservists.
Aviv Bushinsky, Netanyahu’s former adviser turned political analyst, said the crisis was one of the biggest challenges the prime minister had faced, adding that the scale of the reservists’ protest was unprecedented. “This is the first case [a protest] with so many officials and so many units. And it keeps expanding.”
In the past week alone, more than 300 Air Force reservists and more than 600 military intelligence reservists have indicated they will boycott training in protest of the justice overhaul. Their actions are followed by a similar threat from the military, including members of an elite fighter squadron and the famous Cyber Unit 8200.
While delaying his statement, Gallant made it clear that he had warned Netanyahu about the security implications of the overhaul, which would give the government more control over the appointment of judges and limit the supreme court’s ability to overturn laws.
For the rest of the coalition, however, Gallant voicing his concerns was more troubling. A few hours after it was revealed that he was planning to make a statement, the defense minister was attacked by hard-liners from the Likud coalition with ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties.
Itamar Ben-Gvir’s far-right Jewish Power party accused Gallant of “supporting those who stop the government’s activities,” while Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan said any Likud member who opposes the changes should resign. “Preferably this minute,” he tweeted.
The public accusations capped a tumultuous week in which Netanyahu has had to repeatedly distance his government from inflammatory statements and policies proposed by coalition hardliners that have sparked outrage in Israel’s neighbors and the United States.
On Monday, the government was forced to clarify its continued respect for the 1994 peace accord with Jordan after ultra-nationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich delivered an inflammatory speech in which he claimed there was “no such thing as Palestinians” from the podium. A map of Israel that included Jordan and the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israel would not rebuild four liquidated settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite the lifting of a ban on the settlers’ return after the US summoned Israel’s ambassador over the legislation. On the same day, Netanyahu had to clarify that his government would not legislate against Christians after his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners proposed legislation that would punish people with prison terms for trying to persuade people to convert.
The setback highlighted the tension between the radical ambitions of Netanyahu’s far-right partners and his attempts to improve regional ties, which have already been strained by violence in the West Bank.
The United Arab Emirates this week dispatched Khaldoon al-Mubarak, a top Abu Dhabi official, to Israel to warn Netanyahu of the need to ease tensions with the Palestinians.
Mubarak told the Israeli leader that a flare-up of violence would “jeopardize everything that the Abraham Accords have achieved,” a person familiar with the conversation said, referring to the 2020 deal that brings the United Arab Emirates and three other Arab states together to made him normalize it. with Israel.
Despite the turmoil, Bushinsky said the cancellation of Gallant’s planned speech suggests Netanyahu remains in control of his party, while also buying the Israeli leader time to consider his next move. “He always likes to have every ball in the air and make decisions at the last minute.”
Others argue that by insisting that he push through the overhaul, Netanyahu has set the stage for a constitutional showdown with Israel’s highest court, which is likely to be asked to rule on the legality of the changes. Justice Minister Yariv Levin has already stated that the government “certainly will not accept” a situation where the Supreme Court overturns the changes.
Some government critics have warned that any such refusal to accept the court ruling is the moment Israel descends into a full-blown constitutional crisis. Others say it has already arrived.
“The uncertainty, the fact that the government can pass a law, and then if it goes to court, we don’t know if the government will comply with the court’s decision” said pollster and political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin. “This in itself represents a constitutional crisis.”
Additional reporting by Andrew England in London