To Be Reasonable

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Left and right in Israel are split over the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu curtailing the country’s high court from citing the “reasonableness doctrine” in its decisions.

As the Atlantic magazine explained, the doctrine is a British common law tool that gives judges the power to overturn government decisions – but not legislation. Netanyahu believes his officials are better suited than the court to determine what is reasonable. The problem is polls indicate that most Israelis disagree with him.

Months of protests – the latest on Saturday seeing tens of thousands hitting the streets across the country – followed Netanyahu’s announcement of the proposal earlier this year. President Isaac Herzog, whose office is largely ceremonial, recently called for peace amid fears that violence could erupt on the streets, based on the anger that the proposal has elicited, Reuters reported.

Already, medics have walked out, unions are threatening a repeat of strikes that shut down the country in recent months, and reservists and veterans are threatening to quit, with many already having handed in their notice.

Many of these Israelis dislike the conservative policies of parties that are crucial to Netanyahu retaining the prime minister’s office, and also avoiding prosecution on breach of trust, bribery, and fraud charges.

The country’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, for example, recently led more than 1,000 nationalist Israeli settlers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a Muslim holy site in East Jerusalem, a majority Palestinian community that is technically part of the occupied territories of the West Bank, Al Jazeera reported. Far-right Israelis have called for the mosque’s destruction and its replacement with a third Jewish temple to succeed the two that were destroyed in ancient times.

In a sign of how heated debates have become between the pro and anti-government sides in Israel, Tamir Pardo, the former chief of Israeli’s vaunted intelligence agency, Mossad, said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu has “aligned himself with racist and horrible parties.” Pardo went so far as to compare Ben-Gvir’s violent, close-minded, ultranationalist mindset to that of the Ku Klux Klan in the US.

The US might change this equation. As Thomas Friedman recently revealed in the New York Times, President Joe Biden is determining whether to pursue a plan to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia in exchange for Israel preserving the possibility of a two-state solution that would someday make Palestine a sovereign, independent nation living amicably next to Israel.

As the Times of Israel noted, this deal would compel Netanyahu to take more moderate positions on matters involving Israel and Palestine. That would unsettle his ultranationalist allies, forcing the cagey prime minister to join forces with moderate and liberal political coalitions that might be open to diplomatic successes in exchange for reduced tensions with the Palestinians. Currently, violence between Israelis and Palestinians is surging to a level not seen in more than a decade, observers say.

It’s an offer Netanyahu might not be able to refuse.

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