TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday his government intends to press ahead with controversial plans to change the country’s judicial system after talks to seek a compromise solution appeared to have collapsed.
Earlier this year, government plans to reform the judiciary plunged Israel into one of its worst internal political crises. Negotiations between the government and opposition parties somewhat mitigated the crisis by trying to find a middle ground on proposed changes to the country’s judicial system.
Those talks broke down last week a crisis over the powerful regular committee responsible for selecting the judges of the country. Opposition leaders said negotiations are frozen until the committee is formed.
At a meeting of his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said the opposition had not negotiated in good faith and that his government would be cautious about reform.
“This week we will start with the practical steps. We will carry them out in a measured manner and responsibly, but in line with the mandate we have been given to make corrections to the justice system,” he said.
Netanyahu has put the reform on hold in March after mass protests against it. The decision to go ahead is likely to increase tensions and fuel the protest movement, which continues to demonstrate every Saturday despite the plan being paused.
Protest leaders said they were ready for another round of demonstrations that would ensure “any attempt to harm Israel’s democratic justice system will fail.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose party negotiated with Netanyahu, said the unilateral implementation of the plan would “seriously damage the economy, endanger security and tear the Israeli people to pieces.”
Netanyahu’s government, made up of ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties, faced fierce opposition to the reform plan when it was announced earlier this year. Leading economists, high-ranking lawyers and former defense officials warned of dangerous consequences for the future of the country. Even Israel’s key international ally, the US, has expressed concerns.
The government says the plan is necessary to restore power to elected officials and weaken what it says is an interventionist Supreme Court.
Critics say the plan would upend Israel’s delicate system of separation of powers and propel the country toward authoritarianism.
Netanyahu caved in after spontaneous mass protests erupted and a general strike was called after he sacked his defense minister who disagreed with the plan widespread threats by military reservists not to show up for duty if the overhaul has been approved.
The Judge Appointments Committee, which among other things approves the composition of the Supreme Court, has been a key battleground in the reform plan.
Traditionally, both the governing coalition and the opposition are represented in the nine-member body. However, advocates of the reform demanded that the coalition should control both positions and accused Netanyahu and his allies of staffing the judiciary with cronies.
Last week, Parliament appointed the opposition representative to the committee, but the second vacancy was not filled, delaying the committee’s resumption of work.
Each side accused the other of wrecking the talks with the results of the committee appointments.