Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, is working hard. He is committed to brokering a compromise in the judicial debate that is tearing the Jewish state apart. Although Herzog’s effort to host formal discussions between the parties fell apart three months ago, and it has been more than a month since the country’s right-wing coalition passed its first law to weaken the Supreme Court’s authority, Herzog has remained committed to the compromise effort and is hosting private discussions with leaders of both sides.
There has been no announcement of a compromise, and there is no promise that one can be reached. But discussions are ongoing, and a deal could come soon. At the same time, there is concern that the disclosure of the secret discussions may doom the effort, especially as leaders from both the coalition and the opposition seek to downplay the likelihood of success.
While all this is going on, there are several practical factors in play. On the external side, there is speculation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to get past concerns expressed by the White House regarding democracy and democratic institutions in Israel and get on with his coveted meeting with President Joe Biden. And there is the belief that Netanyahu wants to devote more time to the tantalizing prospect of a potential normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
On the internal side, the combination of approaching Supreme Court hearings on several aspects of the coalition’s “judicial reform” efforts, as well as Netanyahu’s interest in avoiding public involvement in a debate that raises conflict of interest concerns because of his own legal problems, make the prospect of some form of compromise even more appealing.
But none of that stops the players from posturing – with coalition loyalists decrying any deal as a capitulation to “extremist” views advanced by the anti-government protest movement over the past 35 weeks, and the opposition camp insisting that Netanyahu cannot be trusted to deliver on any promised compromise.
So, Herzog needs to walk a delicate line. He cannot ask for too much from either side. Yet he needs to deliver a clear win for the majority coalition, which could otherwise charge forward relatively unrestrained and, for the opposition, some form of status quo or freeze agreement to assure only limited change.
The unofficial plan outline does a lot of that, although terms could change. The plan would have the coalition legislating a more muted law to cancel the reasonableness standard and freezing legislation of the judicial reform plan for 18 months. The Judicial Selection Committee would keep its current makeup and require seven of nine of its members to support any vote instead of the seven of 11 members sought in the reform plan.
We support a compromise – particularly one that gives something to both sides along with time to consider more carefully the political and societal implications of the deeply divisive positions they have taken and the threatening rhetoric they have employed. And we applaud the dedication of Herzog to the singular goal of preserving unity among the Israeli people. ■