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Netanyahu draws outrage after hinting at resumption of judicial scheme

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the budget session at the parliament in al-Quds on May 23, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted he may resume his controversial judicial reform plan after his budget bill was approved by the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), sparking angry reactions from opposition politicians.

Benjamin Netanyahu told the regime's Channel 14 TV after the all-night Knesset debate that the judicial reform will now return to the agenda.

"But we are trying to reach understandings (in the compromise talks with opposition parties). I hope we will succeed in that," he said on Wednesday.

The remarks came after his cabinet's two-year budget bill was passed with the support of all 64 coalition lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament.

"We won the elections, we passed the budget, we'll continue for four more years," Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. 

Opposition politicians have objected to Netanyahu's statements.

Yair Lapid, a former Israeli prime minister, demanded that president Isaac Herzog, who has been mediating negotiations with the cabinet, ask for clarification from Netanyahu.

Lapid's coalition partner Benny Gantz, the regime's former minister of military affairs, said that if the judicial reform is tabled, "we'll shake up the country and stop it".

The shekel on Wednesday fell nearly 1% against the dollar, its lowest since March 2020, in what analysts saw partly as a response to the prospect of renewed political and economic turmoil.

Under the judicial overhaul plan, Netanyahu seeks to give the regime's extremist cabinet more influence in the process of selecting the Supreme Court's judges, while seeking to empower the politicians and the Knesset to override the court's rulings.

The introduction of the reforms in January triggered months of unprecedented anti-Netanyahu protests, with critics describing the plan as a threat to the independence of the courts by the prime minister, who is on trial on graft charges.

Faced with overwhelming public pressure, Netanyahu announced in late March he would pause the scheme and engage in talks with the opposition.

Big grant for ultra-Orthodox draws protests

The budget bill passed by the Knesset includes increased funding to seminaries, in a concession to an extremist party in the ruling coalition that drew protests from the opposition.

Thousands of Israelis marched through al-Quds on Tuesday to protest the plan, accusing the coalition of "looting" public funds amid soaring prices.

The demonstration saw the participants rally towards the Knesset and gather in front of it as the legislature was about to vote on the budget.

The rally was organized by the same group of activists who have been protesting at the cabinet's judicial overhaul scheme.

Under the budget bill, hundreds of millions of shekels will also go toward settlements in the occupied West Bank, which have been denounced by the UN Security Council as a flagrant violation of international law.

Israeli settlement construction activities have increased significantly since late 2022, when Netanyahu returned to power leading what is described as the most right-wing Israeli cabinet ever.


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