Israeli parliament passes agreements against Netanyahu and a judicial overhaul plan

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s parliament on Wednesday named an opposition lawmaker to the powerful committee that selects the country’s judges, challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a vote that exposed divisions within the ruling coalition and raised questions about his control over his political allies.

The vote appeared to temporarily avert a crisis that threatened to spark further political turmoil over Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul plan.

The opposition had threatened to pull out of negotiations with Netanyahu over the overhaul if its candidate, Karine Elharrar, was not named to the committee. Despite Elharrar’s appointment on Wednesday, the opposition said it would nonetheless suspend talks with Netanyahu until the second vacancy on the committee is filled and he can return to work.

“No committee, no talks,” said opposition leader Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu accused his opponents of trying to “explode the dialogue”.

Netanyahu’s government unveiled the judicial overhaul days after taking office last December, saying the plan was necessary to rein in an interventionist judiciary. Netanyahu’s opponents say the plan is a way for the far-right coalition — a collection of ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties — to take control of the justice system, threatening the country’s system of checks and balances.

The proposal has prompted hundreds of thousands of Israelis to participate in mass protests every week against the proposed overhaul. The protest prompted Netanyahu to freeze the plan in March and open negotiations, brokered by the country’s iconic president, aimed at reaching a compromise with his opponents.

The judicial nominating committee — which, among other things, approves the composition of the Supreme Court — has been a central battleground in the overhaul plan.

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

The votes, cast anonymously, raised doubts about Netanyahu’s control over his coalition.

Netanyahu ordered his allies to oppose all candidates, including his own members, in a move he hoped would delay all nominations until another vote in a month.

But in the secret ballot, several coalition members joined the opposition in backing Elharrar’s nomination in a 58-56 vote. A second candidate, Tally Gotliv of Netanyahu’s Likud party, garnered only 15 votes and did not cross the threshold. This means that parliament will have to fill the position in the coming month.

Lapid said it was “good news” that an opposition member remained on the judicial selection committee. But he said it was problematic that there was still no committee.

“Netanyahu today prevented its establishment, ending the pretense that he was open to negotiations,” he said.

“Netanyahu was a liar and powerful. Now he is a liar and weak,” he said. “The committee has not been created, the threat to democracy has not been lifted.”

In a video statement, Netanyahu said his opponents were to blame, noting that they froze the talks even after they got what they wanted.

“Gantz and Lapid don’t want real negotiations,” he said. “I promise the citizens of Israel, unlike them, that we will act responsibly for our country.”

Since the overhaul was halted in March, weekly protests have continued to draw tens of thousands of people. Protesters are due to demonstrate for a 24th week on Saturday.

Anticipating protests against Wednesday’s vote, police erected barriers in front of the parliament building and next to Netanyahu’s home in central Jerusalem. But the protests were canceled after the appointment of the opposition MP.


Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed reporting.

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