Party pressure mounts on Netanyahu to suspend judicial overhaul

JERUSALEM, March 26 (Reuters) – A top lawmaker from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Sunday echoed the security chief’s demand to suspend a judicial overhaul, raising the prospect of eroding the government’s parliamentary majority.

Dissatisfaction from the prime minister’s own party and cabinet has fueled months of unprecedented mass protests by Israelis who fear the package of reforms could endanger judicial independence.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, says the overhaul will balance the branches of government.

A key bill that would give his religious-nationalist coalition more control over the appointment of judges is expected to be approved this week in the Knesset, where he and his allies hold 64 of the 120 seats.

But how – or even – the as-yet unscheduled referendum has been questioned by Likud opponents.

Likud lawmaker Defense Minister Yoav Gallant publicly urged Netanyahu on Saturday to suspend the law for a month. Nationwide opposition to the change, which includes increasing military reserves, affects regular forces and undermines national security, he said.

“I will not make it easy,” Gallant said in his televised remarks, adding that if a ratification vote were held this week, he might have abstained.

On Sunday, Likud lawmaker Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, also called for a moratorium on the overhaul to allow for debate and amendments.

Asked in an interview whether he would vote for or against the looming bill, he did not directly answer but cited his walkout from Knesset sessions earlier this month.

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“I have to remind you that I did not read these bills first when they in Likud did not listen to me and ignored my call for dialogue,” Edelstein told Israel’s Army Radio.

“We don’t want to bury the reforms,” ​​he added, but “it is better to avoid the adventure of bringing it to a vote before it is clear that there is support for it”.

Gallant’s statement was welcomed by senior Likud lawmaker David Bitton. A junior Likud lawmaker, Eli Talal, spoke last week in favor of suspending the law. But it is not clear whether they or others in Likud voted against the ratification vote.

Netanyahu, who returned early Sunday from a visit to London, did not immediately comment on the rift within his party. But a pro-reform Likud lawmaker, Tally Gotliv, sounded undeterred.

“We have 62 (‘yes’) and if no one else comes, we will have 61. Voting will take place this week,” he told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.

Written by Don Williams Editing by Raisa Kasolowski

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