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Netanyahu says he will delay his judicial overhaul. But will that be enough for protesters?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he would postpone the votes on his planned judicial overhaul, but analysts say that may not be enough to cool the protests.

The prime minister announced he would delay the second and third votes on the remaining legislation until after the Jewish Passover holiday from April 5-13, “to give time for a real chance for a real debate.”

Netanyahu nonetheless insisted that the overhaul was necessary. And while he may be trying to buy himself time, it is unclear if his deferment of the vote will silence the huge protests and mass strikes paralyzing the country, experts say.

Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the protests may either tail off or resume at a later date following the announcement, but that the demonstrators are nonetheless “ready” for the reform, and can return to the streets at any moment.

“The protesters now have the infrastructure to take protests out (to the streets) within minutes,” Rahat told CNN, noting that it is not just one protest movement but tens of groups, some of whom may decide to continue to rally despite the deferment.

“The infrastructure is there, and if there will be a need, there will be a comeback (to the streets),” he said.

“The protests will continue unless Netanyahu will note publicly that he was mistaken when leading that reform, and (that) he is holding all future motivations to renew the judicial reform,” Hayman told CNN. “This is the only scenario where we will see a complete stop of all the demonstrations.”

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If, however, Netanyahu uses the pause to conduct proper negotiations with all parties, and eventually presents a moderated reform bill that is approved by the opposition, then “maybe, in that case, at the end state, after Independence Day, we will see a remission in the protests,” Hayman said, referring to Israel’s national day on April 25/26.

During his speech, Netanyahu also reiterated his criticism of the refusal by some reservists to train or serve in the military in protest at the planned changes. The prime minister had earlier fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his opposition to the planned overhaul.

People hold Israeli flags during a demonstration, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition government presses on with its contentious judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 18, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
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“The state of Israel cannot continue with people who refuse to serve in the army,” he the prime minister said. “Refusing is the end of our country.”

Hayman, from the INSS, said the protests may pose a security threat as some within the military begin to divide into camps for and against the judicial overhaul.

While it is has not yet happened, said Hayman, the mass movement could cause “the gaps, the rifts inside the (IDF) units … to widen and deepen.”

Some of the military members Netanyahu is referring to are also serving in very critical units, said Rahat. But since they are mostly volunteers who do so “because they love their country,” Netanyahu must “regain their trust” to bring them back to their posts.

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