Since I wrote this morning’s post there have been a number of new developments in Israel.
As expected, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a pause to the judicial reform package in order to allow time for negotiations with the opposition. The two main parliamentary opposition leaders, Lapid and Gantz, cautiously accepted the offer and praised the move, as did the country’s largely ceremonial President who offered to host the negotiations.
Polls out today show that the public opposes the package (for a mix of principled and pragmatic reasons) by a substantial margin. They also predict the right-wing bloc would lose a substantial number of seats in a new election. But there is no new election. One doesn’t have to be held for years. And those numbers, which can’t be a surprise, will only steel the members of the coalition since if the government falls it will likely be bad for all of them.
As noted this morning, this is pretty transparently a stalling tactic. While there are versions of reform that parties outside the coalition can accept or even welcome, it’s very hard to see how they can accept what the extremist parties in Netanyahu’s camp demand. Netanyahu’s aim here is to calm the waters and hope that the protests lose steam — then return and pass the legislation once the protests have lost momentum and coherence. It’s difficult to imagine Lapid and Gantz are as open-minded about these negotiations as their statements suggest. They likely believe that the gravity of the crisis is so great they have no choice but to accept the offer to talk.
The bigger question is whether these two are really in a position to negotiate at all.
It’s difficult to capture the full scale of the protests and their durability. They’ve garnered the support of a broad swathe of Israeli society and they’ve escalated to include a kind of soft strike by some Israeli army reservists — again, totally unheard of. Have they become a coherent and potent enough political movement that it’s really the protestors who are and will determine how this plays out? I don’t think I would know if I were there on the ground and I certainly don’t know from thousands of miles away. But that’s really the question. Has this ongoing crisis and the scale of the protests created a new political reality operating outside of parliamentary politics or not?