In recent months, protests inside Israel have increased significantly in response to Israeli Minister of Justice Yariv Levin's announcement of the judicial overhaul plan on January 4, 2023. Protests have been held every week since Yariv's announcement. On February 12, 2023, Israeli President Isaac Herzog delivered an unusual address in which he warned of the consequences of this plan and its harm to Israeli society, economy, and security. The president attempted to mediate a reconciliation between the opposition and the ruling coalition, but he was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the coalition began its strategy; on March 20, 2023, the Knesset passed the first reading of the proposal regarding the eligibility of ministers and deputy ministers with a majority of 63 members. In addition, the proposal states that courts, including the Supreme Court, are not allowed directly or indirectly to hear cases relating to the appointment or dismissal of ministers from office. This proposal is one of the most crucial components of the judicial amendments plan.
The ruling coalition also seeks to amend the Supreme Court’s authority so that the right-wing government of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can pass legislation that the Supreme Court has previously invalidated, or pass any new legislation after approval of the Knesset by a simple majority (61 members out of 120 members), allowing Israel’s legislative authority to enact laws.
The amendments also address the composition of the Supreme Court, giving Knesset members more input in the selection and appointment of its judges. Furthermore, the influence of the ministries’ legal advisors has been increasingly weakened, rendering their recommendations non-binding. In reaction to heavy opposition from both within and outside his cabinet, Netanyahu announced postponing the judicial overhaul plan until the next parliamentary session on March 27, 2023.
If these amendments are passed, the ruling coalition’s extremist religious parties will be able to propose additional laws and decisions that will paralyse the judicial system, reshape relations with Palestinians, and pave the way for the expansion of the settlement project, the legalisation of settlement outposts, and the imposition of Israeli laws in the West Bank to marginalise and revoke Palestinian land rights. Furthermore, this strategy will give extremists control of Area C. Accordingly; This analysis aims to clarify the potential impact of the proposed judicial amendments on the future of the settlement policy in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Examining these amendments will provide further insight into how the settlement policy in these areas may be affected if the amendments are approved.
Judicial amendments were a significant part of Netanyahu’s recent election campaign since he is facing corruption charges and wants to avoid them. This prompted him to team up with far-right parties to build his government based on several promises, the most significant of which was overhauling the judicial system. As a result, he has already succeeded in attracting the most radical movements and parties in Israeli history, forming a coalition government with movements from the Haredi movement, which is known for its doctrinal strictness, and the Hardal movement, which is known for its doctrinal strictness and nationalist extremism, and believes that gaining decisive control over the land is the only way to resolve the conflict with the Palestinian people.
The Supreme Court of Israel’s decision that Rabbi Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Shas party, is ineligible for ministerial positions due to tax evasion crimes, as well as the demand that Netanyahu dismisses the health and interior ministries that were given to him, are the main reasons for Netanyahu’s bias towards these reforms. Netanyahu’s objective with the implementation of these judicial reforms is to appease the Shas party, which is his key ally, and Deri specifically, as they have close ties, in order to secure his position in the cabinet and maintain the coalition’s stability.
To break the deadlock in the corruption cases and retain Deri in his position, Netanyahu is attempting to pass the so-called “French law,” which seeks to increase the immunity of Knesset members and ministers in the face of any investigations or prosecutions while performing their official duties. However, ratification of the French Law necessitates the passage of another law known as the “Override Clause,” which limits the Supreme Court’s power and ability to revoke Knesset bills or government decisions. Furthermore, the “Override Clause” would compel the Knesset to adopt any new legislation with a simple majority (61 out of 120 members) and give Knesset members more control over Supreme Court selections by the Judicial Selection Committee. As a result, Netanyahu’s personal interests coincided with the goals of ideological right-wing parties and movements that want to end the conflict with the Palestinians by enacting laws and decisions that give them control over Palestinian lands without oversight or legislation that constrains their ideological positions.
This was obvious in the coalition agreement reached by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party. In a first in Israeli history, the Religious Zionist Party pressed the Likud to legalise the annexation of West Bank territory and impose Israeli control over them. The agreement also calls on the new government to recognise all illegal outposts in the West Bank. In February 2023, it was decided to legalise nine further outposts and build 7,000 new settlement homes. Furthermore, according to the agreement with the Zionist party, Smotrich would take over the Ministry of Finance to direct the necessary finances for developing settlement projects. Additionally, the party will represent the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption to move the greatest number of immigrants into the settlements and produce a demographic shift in the West Bank in favour of Jewish settlers. Furthermore, it was agreed to establish a special ministry under the Ministry of Defence to oversee the settlement project, issue licences, and regulate the conditions of settlement outposts. The new ministry would oversee Palestinian construction operations in the West Bank and issue demolition orders in Area C.
The parties in the new government reiterate their support for settlement and Judaisation activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem and call for the legalisation of all settlements constructed in the West Bank without the approval of the occupying army. They also oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state and deny the Palestinians sovereignty over their territory. Furthermore, several parties take extremist viewpoints, such as the “far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) movement,” which calls for confronting the Palestinian struggle with severe measures, such as the physical liquidation of combatants and the expulsion of the families of those who carried out the attacks. The Religious Zionist Party advocates the annexation of Area “C”, which encompasses a substantial portion of the West Bank. The “Jewish Strength” also demands Israel take sovereignty of all the territories it seized in 1967 and displace Palestinians from the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Israeli heartland.
The ruling coalition plans to prevent the courts from meddling with the legal processes for settlement construction on private land. In 2020, the Supreme Court overturned a law issued by the Netanyahu government in February 2017 allowing settlement construction on private Palestinian lands to legalise all settlement outposts in the West Bank and pave the way for the seizure and construction on large areas of private Palestinian lands.
Developing new mechanisms for the growth of settlement on private lands is one of the primary goals of the judicial amendments. On March 20, 2023, the Knesset adopted a bill backed by the Jewish Power Party (Otzma Yehudit), one of the ruling coalition parties, to repeal the disengagement law, focusing on the West Bank region excluding Gaza Strip. The disengagement law was passed in 2005 and provided for Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four illegal settlements within Area B in the northern West Bank. The new bill will allow resettlement in the four settlements as the beginning of a plan to Judaise more lands in the West Bank. The judicial amendments – if the ruling coalition manages to pass them – will have adverse effects on the future of the Palestinian cause by strengthening the position of far-right parties in Israel, and increasing their power and influence in political decision-making, especially about the Judaisation of Jerusalem and the expansion of the illegal settlement activities in the West Bank. As a consequence, the rights of the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories would be restricted, the Palestinian cause will worsen, and international attempts to settle the conflict peacefully will be hampered. Furthermore, the legal conflict will increase, negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli parties will collapse, and the prospect of reaching a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be hampered.
In conclusion, any observer of the current Israeli scenario can see that the Netanyahu government’s agenda will not finish with the so-called judicial changes. Nonetheless, it will extend to control of all state institutions, beginning with the police and progressing to education, the media, and all state agencies. Given the strength of the foreign and international opposition, as well as pressure from the United States and other nations that support the democratic model, it will be difficult for Netanyahu and his coalition to fulfil their goals in a short time. If enacted, the judicial reforms will provide an opportunity to establish further legislation and laws to annex West Bank territories to increase settlements and Judaise Jerusalem, potentially sparking a third intifada. This, however, is contingent on Netanyahu’s strong will and capacity to overcome the immense internal resistance he has experienced and will confront.
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