(Jerusalem) Caution prevails Tuesday in Israel the day after Binyamin Netanyahu announced a “pause” in the justice reform project which deeply divides the country, everything still remains to be done to allow a way out of the crisis.
The Prime Minister “was able to turn a bitter defeat into a draw with pretty words”, said Nahum Barnea, columnist for the daily Yediot Aharonot, on Tuesday.
“Whatever he says or will say, few people believe him, I believe that confidence in him is not great, including among the right-wing demonstrators who came by the thousands yesterday”, continues Mr. Barnea, in reference to a first counter-demonstration held Monday evening in Jerusalem by supporters of the reform.
The justice reform project has been denounced in the streets since its announcement in early January by one of the most right-wing governments in Israel, and has given rise to one of the largest popular mobilization movements in the country.
For the government of Mr. Netanyahu, the reform aims to rebalance the powers by reducing the prerogatives of the Supreme Court, which the executive considers politicized, for the benefit of Parliament.
Its detractors believe, on the contrary, that the reform risks leading to an illiberal or authoritarian drift and insist on the scale of the demonstrations against the reform for weeks.
After a day of intensified protests and the appearance of tensions within the majority, Mr. Netanyahu announced in a speech Monday evening that he had “ decided on a pause ” in the examination of the project in order to give “ an chance for real dialogue” with a view to having a more consensual text adopted during the summer parliamentary session to open on April 30.
Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Sunday evening and Monday after the announcement on Sunday of the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had demanded a freeze on the reform the day before in the face of a large movement of reservists refusing to fulfill their military obligations.
On Monday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog called for “immediately stopping” legislation on this reform.
Reacting quickly to Mr. Netanyahu’s announcement, the two main opposition leaders, the centrists Yaïr lapid and Benny Gantz, said they were ready to discuss with the government, but under the aegis of the president, while warning the government against all deceit.
“Better late than never,” Gantz said. “We will report immediately to the president’s residence with outstretched hands”, he added, urging Mr. Netanyahu “ to stop the threats ” and to send a team to Mr. Herzog.
On Tuesday, political commentators were skeptical of Netanyahu’s intentions.
His speech followed lengthy negotiations with his far-right partners, including Homeland Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who the press said had threatened to quit the government if there was a pause in reform.
Mr. Ben Gvir’s party announced before Mr. Netanyahu’s statement the signing of an agreement between the two men, granting the minister new prerogatives, in particular the creation of a civilian “ national guard ” under his authority, whose details were not released.
“ It’s a victory for the protesters, but the one who really bent Netanyahu and trampled on him was Itamar Ben Gvir […] he obtained from him an outrageous promise: the creation of a militia which will be under his orders,” denounced Yossi Verter, Haaretz’s political correspondent, on the front page of the left-wing daily on Tuesday.
Another tenor in the government, Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, assured Monday after Mr. Netanyahu’s speech that “reform [will] advance and the necessary changes in the system judiciary and Israeli democracy to come”.
One of the collectives behind the protests against the reform announced the continuation of the protest “as long as the judicial coup is not completely stopped”.
Two polls broadcast Monday evening on Israeli television show a loss of confidence in Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party, which would lose 7 seats in the event of an election while the ruling coalition has only a narrow majority in Parliament, with 64 MPs (out of 120).