During his election campaign last autumn prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s main pitch to voters in Israel was a promise of four years of stable right-wing government after years of repeat snap elections and political paralysis.
He won the November election – the country’s fifth in under four years – and, after 18 months in the opposition, returned to power thanks to the support of a group of right-wing and religiously conservative parties, including ones that had for years largely been on the margins of Israeli politics.
On Monday, barely three months after being sworn in, Netanyahu – Israel’s longest-serving prime minister – his conservative Likud party and his government appeared to be in survival mode, fielding competing demands from within his coalition.
Although there was no immediate indication of an imminent political collapse, splits from within the coalition over the fate of its divisive plan to curb the powers of the judiciary have put Netanyahu in a difficult position as he seeks to hang on to the allies that helped bring him back to power.
The turmoil rocking Israel worsened after Netanyahu announced on Sunday night that he was firing his defence minister Yoav Gallant, who had called for a delay of the overhaul effort, citing security concerns and growing anger within the military ranks.
As Netanyahu mulled announcing a delay in the legislative push in response to the growing public anger and civil unrest, several Likud ministers said they would support him in whatever decision he made, including Yariv Levin, the justice minister and a main architect and driver of the proposed judicial changes.
Levin’s backing carried weight because he is the member of Netanyahu’s government who unveiled the judicial plan in January. Levin had initially threatened to resign if Netanyahu delayed or derailed the legislation for judicial change, according to Israeli news reports late Sunday. Levin warned in a statement that lawmakers acting on their own whims could lead to the immediate fall of the government and the collapse of Likud.
Other members of Netanyahu’s party expressed opposition to any compromise, which they characterised as caving in to the anti-government protests.
Tally Gotliv, a Likud lawmaker, said that the government had already “surrendered” unilaterally by announcing last week that it would only push ahead immediately with one part of the overhaul plan – a change giving the government more control over the appointment of judges that is the most contentious part of the effort – while postponing other elements of the plan by at least a month. “But surrendering to irresponsible civil disobedience?” she wrote on Twitter early Monday, as protesters around the country flooded onto the streets. “What right will we still have to exist as a coalition?”
A key Netanyahu ally and coalition partner, Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, signalled his support for a legislative delay on Monday by requesting the freezing of an amendment that would have reinstated him as a minister after the supreme court ruled in January that he was unfit to serve in the government, mainly because of his criminal record.
However, the far-right Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties in the coalition were putting up more resistance.
“The reform of the justice system must not be stopped and we must not surrender to anarchy,” Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of Jewish Power and the minister of national security, the department that oversees the police, wrote on Twitter before meeting with Netanyahu. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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