Israeli lawmakers will pick two members of a panel that selects judges on Wednesday, giving a clear signal as to how far Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government is prepared to compromise over plans to limit the Supreme Court.
The nine-member committee that appoints judges, including to the Supreme Court, has been the hottest issue in the battle over the nationalist-religious government’s judicial overhaul plan, which has sparked nationwide protests.
Netanyahu has suspended the overhaul plan, which gives his coalition almost complete control of appointments to the bench.
He has been holding compromise talks with the opposition that aim for broadly agreed legal reforms instead. But if parliament excludes the opposition from the two members it picks on Wednesday, those talks are likely to be ignored.
The panel is now made up of lawmakers, ministers, judges, and lawyers. In the past it has been traditional for the two members named by the Knesset to represent the coalition and opposition, but hardliners want both to represent the government.
The judicial drive, announced in January only a week into Netanyahu’s return to office, set off one of Israel’s worst political crises in years, with critics at home and abroad dubbing it a threat to the very nature of Israel’s democracy.
Advocates of the proposed overhaul say the Supreme Court is elitist, left leaning and overreaching, and elected officials should have more power in picking the bench. Critics say that would politicize the courts and threaten judicial independence.
Western allies, including Washington, have urged Netanyahu to pursue broad consensus over reforms to the justice system.
Until now, talks with the opposition have yielded little, compounding uncertainty over the overhaul plan’s future that has hit the economy and the shekel. The stakes are rising with two Supreme Court judges retiring in the coming months.
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