Why Netanyahu Facing His Greatest Political Challenge? 2023

Benjamin Netanyahu’s 15 years as Israel’s prime minister, spanning three consecutive terms, have provided him with a wealth of hard-earned political expertise. He’s never been in more need.

On the West Bank, deadly confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians have been escalating over the past year. Like in the past, Israeli defense forces claim to have killed terrorists, while Palestinians accuse the Israelis of killing a large number of innocent people. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 2022 will be the worst year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in over two decades, with an estimated 154 Palestinian deaths. In the same time frame, 25 Israelis and foreign persons were slain by Palestinian assaults. Israelis have murdered 80 Palestinians so far this year, while Palestinian assaults have killed 14 Israelis.

Perhaps more astonishing is the escalating political conflict among Israelis over planned modifications to the power of Israeli courts by Netanyahu. His administration has suggested a plan that, in three ways, would significantly diminish the Supreme Court of Israel. Secondly, it would empower the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to overturn judicial judgments by simple majority vote. Second, it would revoke the Supreme Court’s authority to invalidate legislation deemed incompatible with Israel’s Basic Laws, which serve as the country’s constitution. Thirdly, it would give elected authorities a larger role in selecting the court’s justices.

According to the plan’s proponents, it is a long-overdue change that will restrict the authority of unelected judges to exercise uncontrolled power over laws drafted by the elected representatives of the people. This is especially true for those who believe the court is dominated by activist justices who rule against them on immigration restrictions, settlement policy in the West Bank, and ultra-Orthodox military conscription. Opponents assert that Netanyahu, who is now on trial for corruption accusations, intends to eliminate checks and balances on his power, endangering Israeli democracy by allowing any government with 61 of 120 Knesset votes to do anything it can approve.

The vast majority of Israelis are opposed to the reform. According to a February study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, around two-thirds of respondents believe the court should retain the authority to strike down legislation that judges deem to contravene the Basic Laws. In fact, over half of Likud voters, Netanyahu’s own party, concur.

This may explain why protests against the administration have been so widespread and noisy in recent weeks. On March 11, the culmination of weeks of demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of Israelis went to the streets in an unparalleled display of anti-government rage in Israel’s history. A confrontation between the government’s Minister of National Security and Israel’s Attorney General about how to respond highlighted the intensity of outrage on both sides.

There are also concerns that if Netanyahu does not make significant adjustments to the proposed judicial reforms, he would soon have to deal with severe economic consequences. Analysts both inside and outside the nation have cautioned that judicial reforms might reduce the country’s credit rating, drastically increase the cost of borrowing, and discourage foreign investment.

Netanyahu has struggled in previous years to establish majority administrations without the assistance of far-right parties and populist MPs who prefer conflict to compromise, notably with Palestinians. The Prime Minister has proven to be a skilled political acrobat, able to placate a sufficient number of individuals to keep the lights on and his administration going forward. Nonetheless, they are his toughest challenges to date.

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