Before their meeting on Monday at the President’s residence, the negotiating teams of the coalition and the opposition had met twice to discuss technical issues. Monday marked their first effort to start working on a consensus that would be agreeable to both sides and, they hope, their voters.
The opposition was represented by its two largest parties, Yesh Atid and the National Camp, the Labor party having previously quit the talks. They focused on the pending legislation regarding the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee. Having passed this bill through committee, the coalition is able, at any time, to submit it to a second and third plenum vote and turn it into law, and so, conceivably, the opposition has a high incentive to find a common ground here.
However, at the moment, common ground is not in great supply. According to Haaretz, the coalition on Monday submitted a completely new proposal: the Judicial Selection Committee will include 11 members: five from the coalition, five from the opposition, and one additional representative, a retired Supreme Court judge to be picked by the Justice Minister. The appointment of a Supreme Court judge will require a majority of six committee members.
The coalition proposal is doubling down on the novel idea (for Israel) that elected officials should appoint judges in a democracy. The entire civilized world does it this way, and in the US, it’s winner-take-all: the majority party in the Senate gets to appoint the judges. But Israelis mistrust their elected officials, whom they refer to as “politicians,” as if it’s a putdown. In fact, it’s safe to say that after 75 years, Israelis don’t trust anybody. This reinforces my belief that Israelis need a psychiatrist more than they do political leaders.
The opposition’s opening proposal was to leave the current composition of the Judicial Selection Committee intact: the Justice Minister is the Chairman, one Cabinet Minister; chosen by the Cabinet; two MKs, chosen by the Knesset (usually one from the coalition and one from the opposition); two members of the Bar Association (selected by the two largest factions in the bar); and the Chief Justice and two other Supreme Court judges. That’s nine members, and to be chosen a candidate must get seven votes.
The opposition offered changes in the way the two members of the Bar Association are selected: instead of being chosen by the bar, one will be chosen by the opposition and one by the coalition.
Although the differences between the parties are enormous––they are practically on different planets––the representatives reported that the atmosphere that prevailed during the discussions was very business-like. “It didn’t seem like the Likud came to smear us,” an opposition team negotiator told Haaretz.
The coalition negotiating team includes Government Secretary Yossi Fuchs, the head of the legal department at the Kohelet Forum Dr. Aviad Bakshi, Minister for Strategic Issues Ron Dermer, and Prof. Talia Einhorn from Ariel University. Yesh Atid is represented by MKs Orna Barbivay and Karin Elharer, as well as former PM Yair Lapid’s chief of staff Naama Shultz and attorney Oded Gazit. The National Camp is represented by MKs Hili Trooper, Orit Farkash HaCohen, and former Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, as well as attorney Ronan Aviani.
The next crucial issue on the negotiating table is the protocol for appointing the next Supreme Court President. The coalition wants to do away with the seniority system and give the power to select a new chief to the Justice Minister. President Esther Hayut will end her service in October 2023.