Jerusalem (CNN) Beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to backtrack on controversial plans to overhaul the country’s justice system on Monday, amid Widespread strikes and protests As well as mounting international pressure.
On a momentous day for Israel, Netanyahu said he would delay a vote on the remaining legislation until after the Knesset’s Passover recess in April “to give a real opportunity for a real debate.” In a televised address, Netanyahu said he was “aware of the tensions” and “listening to the people”.
“Out of responsibility towards the nation, I decided to postpone … the vote in order to give time for discussion,” he added.
But Netanyahu indicated that the pause was only temporary. He insisted that reform was necessary, and repeated his criticism of refusing to train or serve in the military in protest of the planned changes. “Rejection is the end of our country,” he said.
Following Netanyahu’s announcement, Arnon Bar-David, leader of the Histadrut workers union, announced that the general strike, which swept the nation on Monday, would now be called off. “The general strike stops from this moment on,” Bar David told CNN affiliate Channel 13 but warned Netanyahu against reviving the legislation.
“If the prime minister returns to strict legislation, he will find us confronting him. Legislation without approval will be met with a general strike,” he added.
It was not clear if Netanyahu’s partial reversal would end the simmering anger in the streets. “Protests will continue unless Netanyahu publicly notes that he was wrong in driving this reform, and (that) he has every future motive for renewing judicial reform,” said Tamir Heyman, director general of the Institute for National Security Studies. ), he told CNN.
“This is the only scenario in which we will witness a complete cessation of all demonstrations,” said Hyman, the former head of the Israeli Intelligence Directorate.
However, key Israeli allies welcomed Netanyahu’s announcement. For the United States, the delay represents “an opportunity to create more time and space for compromise,” said White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also praised the decision and his country’s relationship with Israel. “It is essential to preserve the shared democratic values that underpin that relationship, and to maintain a robust system of checks and balances,” Cleverly said.
However, concerns have been raised about the terms of the deal Netanyahu struck with his coalition partners.
Earlier on Monday, the far-right Jewish Power party revealed that a deal to delay the legislation would include the creation of a National Guard controlled by party leader and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak told CNN the move was a “crazy move” because of Ben Gvir’s long criminal record, which includes convictions for inciting racism and supporting terrorism.
The original proposals would have amounted to the most comprehensive reform of the Israeli legal system since the founding of the state. The most significant changes would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions; The Netanyahu government has also sought to change the way judges are selected, dismissing independent legal advisers to government ministries, whose opinions are binding.
But months of sustained protests over the plans have drawn global attention and rocked the country. The political crisis deepened on Sunday when Netanyahu’s office announced the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a one-line statement, after he became the first member of the government to call for a halt to the controversial plans.
In the hours that followed, Israeli society paused as anger mounted over the bill. Netanyahu has also been condemned by his opponents and a host of former Israeli prime ministers.
“We have never come close to collapse. Our national security is in danger, our economy is collapsing, our foreign relations are at an all-time low, and we don’t know what to tell our children about their future in this country,” former Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in the Knesset. Extremists have no brakes and no limits.”
As he struggled to advance his efforts last week, Netanyahu’s government also passed a law making it difficult to remove prime ministers that critics have condemned as a self-preservation tactic.
By a vote of 61 to 47 final votes, the Knesset approved the bill stating that only the prime minister himself or the cabinet, by a two-thirds majority, can declare the leader unfit. After that, the Cabinet vote must be approved by a supermajority in Parliament.
Netanyahu, the first sitting Israeli prime minister to appear in court as a defendant, is being tried on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. He denies any wrongdoing.
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