President Isaac Herzog has renewed his efforts to mediate between the government and the opposition with the aim of reaching a compromise on the reform of Israel’s legal system. The background to his efforts is three critical hearings in the High Court of Justice this month, the outcomes of which could lead to a constitutional crisis.
According to a report on Channel 12 News, the compromise proposal has four parts: 1. A unspecified softening of the legislation on the reasonableness standard, which a recent law abolished in judicial review of decisions by the government and government ministers; 2. No change in the current make-up of the judicial selection committee; 3. A change in the majority required for judicial appointments at all levels to seven out of the nine committee members. At present, only an ordinary majority of five is required for appointments below the level of the Supreme Court; 4. Suspension of unilateral legislation on the legal system for eighteen months.
Since the coalition has three representatives on the judicial selection committee, the voting change in effect gives it a veto on all appointments. Furthermore, the change will also apply to the appointment of the president of the Supreme Court, who, by convention, is currently appointed according to seniority.
Although, according to reports on Channel 12 and Channel 13, the President’s Residence said that the proposal was drawn up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s consent, the Likud party has issued a sweeping denial. The president himself said yesterday evening that agreement had not yet been reached. A statement on his behalf said, "In the past few weeks, the state president has engaged in a special effort to avoid a constitutional crisis and to bring about a solution that will preserve democracy and the unity of the Israeli people. As part of these efforts, the president has held talks with heads of the coalition and the opposition with the aim of creating a dialogue that will lead to a broad consensus. It is stressed that no agreements have yet been reached, and the president will continue with his efforts."
As on previous occasions when a compromise seemed close, or when talks broke down, shekel exchange rates responded immediately. Yesterday, during the day, the shekel-US dollar rate came close to NIS 3.82/$, but the shekel strengthened to NIS 3.78/$ within an hour of the compromise proposal being reported. This morning, the rate is back to just over NIS 3.80/$. On the stock market, the Tel Aviv 35 Index is currently up 0.41%.
A possible incentive for Netanyahu to reach a compromise on the judicial overhaul is his impending visit to the US to participate in the UN General Assembly, and reports of a possible meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the event. Biden has not so far extended an invitation to Netanyahu to visit Washington, and he has expressed his dismay at the situation in Israel over the judicial overhaul. The conflict over the government's plans will come to a head this month, with the High Court of Justice due to rule on petitions to strike down the law abolishing the reasonableness standard and to compel Minister of Justice Yariv Levin to convene the judicial selection committee in its current format, and also to strike down the recent law limiting the possibilities for declaring the prime minister incapacitated.
The Attorney General has expressed support for the petition for the judicial selection committee to be convened. Many judicial posts in Israel are vacant. Levin is resisting calls to convene the committee before he introduces the changes he desires in its composition.
Depending on the rulings on these petitions, Israel could find itself in a constitutional crisis within weeks.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 5, 2023.
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