In the midst of one of the hottest weeks of Israel’s long, hot summer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may very well have found himself at boiling point.
As members of his ruling coalition rush to push through legislation that will alter a key basic law, a clause dealing with the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn government decisions deemed “unreasonable,” ahead of the Knesset’s summer recess On July 30, hundreds of thousands of civilians are intensifying their protests against what they see as an immediate threat to the democratic nature of the country. Unions are threatening strikes that could cripple the economy, reservists are vowing not to serve in the military, and even the US president is pressuring Netanyahu to downsize.
On Monday night, President Joe Biden spoke by phone with the Israeli leader and stressed, among other things, the need for the “broadest possible consensus” on everything related to the controversial judicial reforms.
With the White House closely monitoring events in Israel, as well as the shekel falling to record lows and complaints Conversing with the army chief of general staff on Tuesday that civic dissent poses a serious threat to national security, Netanyahu must now decide whether to proceed with the controversial reforms or reassess, a move that could end up breaking up his already tumultuous coalition.
“Netanyahu, as usual, is riding the tiger’s back,” said Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. jewish insider.
“Right now, you are riding in a specific direction given to you by your coalition partners and by [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin and members of his party,” continued Rahat, who is also a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. “The question is, what will happen to the other pressures, the US, the military and the economy?”
Netanyahu is not directly concerned with the protests, he added, but rather with how “they will influence the United States, the situation within the military and the economy; these are things that concern him much more.”
“What Biden was trying to tell Netanyahu is that he is welcome. [to the White House] if he moderates his reforms,” Rahat explained. “The problem, however, is that it is not clear whether the protesters or those in his coalition believe him. [Netanyahu] At this stage, he has no reputation for telling the truth, so there is a trust issue on both sides.”
Biden, who met Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House on Tuesday, has been unusually critical of the current Israeli government, the most right-wing and most religious the country has ever seen, and has refrained from inviting Netanyahu to meetings. in washington. since the longtime leader returned to power in December.
A reading of their Monday phone call issued by Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders would meet in the United States soon, but the location of the meeting was not specified, fueling speculation that it could take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. in September; Biden’s statement did not mention the meeting.
Shalom Lipner, senior fellow for Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC-based think tank, said the “dissonance” between the two readings of the Biden-Netanyahu phone call “perfectly illustrates the prevailing tensions.” “.
“The prime minister’s statement was tantamount to a victory lap, projecting that the two leaders are now in sync to the point that Biden finally sent him an invitation to visit the United States,” Lipner said. “The president’s version of his conversation, which makes no mention of any such invitation, reads more like a to-do list he expects Netanyahu to complete before he can even consider being welcomed into the Oval Office.”
“President Herzog landed in Washington amid growing protests at home over proposed judicial reform, in striking contrast to the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel, which Herzog will announce before a joint meeting of Congress,” Lipner noted.
“With little or no constructive dialogue between supporters and opponents of the Netanyahu government’s designs for the judiciary, it is difficult to identify an immediate path to end this zero-sum game, which will continue to threaten Israel’s internal cohesion and throw the USA friendship theme. for Israel as a prominent wedge on Capitol Hill,” he said.
Mass protests in Israel have been ongoing for about 28 weeks, but have subsided after Netanyahu agreed in March to work alongside opposition leaders to find a compromise on the controversial proposals.
However, talks between the parties broke down last month and the government relaunched its judicial reform plan with some notable changes, including the removal of a clause that would have allowed the Knesset to overturn any court ruling.
Last week, the coalition decided to go ahead with other controversial parts of the plan, however, it presented a first vote a bill that would prevent the Supreme Court from overturning government decisions and official appointments deemed “unreasonable.” Coalition members who have been pushing the reforms say they hope to submit the legislation for a final vote in the plenary Knesset on Sunday, signing the first part of the judicial reform into law.
In response, opponents of the government and its policies staged a “day of disruption” on Tuesday, blocking major highways, train stations, entrances to military bases and even a symbolic protest outside the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. . In addition, thousands of reservists from key Israel Defense Forces and Air Force units, including pilots, announced that they would not continue their voluntary service if the legislation is passed. And, on Wednesday, the Israel Medical Association held a two-hour “warning strike” in response to the government’s actions.
“Netanyahu already paid a heavy political price to his coalition partners in March when he suspended the previous round of legislation, so it will be harder for him to back down this time,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a journalist for Haaretz and author of Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahuhe told JI, acknowledging the prime minister’s dilemma.
“He also doesn’t want to show any more public weakness and is eager to show that protests and reservists can’t put pressure on him,” he said.
Neri Zilber, a Tel Aviv-based journalist and adviser to the Israel Policy Forum, said it was important to look at the situation both in the near future and in the long term.
“In the short term, Netanyahu fully intends to pass this bill early next week, he said so, his ministers said so, he even told Biden he would,” Zilber noted. “So unless something really unexpected happens in the next few days, which seems unlikely, he will pass this bill.”
“The next question is what will happen in the coming weeks and months,” he continued. “Their next move will be to quell and essentially try to break up the protest movement, challenging them to continue protesting in the streets during the gray days of summer, back to school and Jewish holidays. Of course, the Knesset will be in recess by then, so no bills will pass anyway.”
“However, the protest movement will try to respond to the fact that they just passed the first judicial reform bill,” Zilber said. “Netanyahu probably believes that time is on his side, and that the damage to the military, the economy and the very social fabric of this country will not be as great or as threatening as the protesters say or that time will heal all wounds. . which often happens, especially when it comes to Bibi Netanyahu, who always plays for time.”