What are the prospects for judicial review of Israel and Netanyahu?

They call it “salami tactics”.

Critics of Israel’s right-wing government’s plan to overhaul the country’s justice system accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of cutting the original legislative package in a bid to make it more palatable. Some protesters underscored this point by brandishing giant plastic salami during large-scale protests on Tuesday.

Netanyahu and his allies argue that all they want is to empower elected officials and take more scrutiny from unelected Supreme Court justices, who they say are overstepping their roles. But Mr. Netanyahu may be looking for ways to proceed with the plan more slowly after protests in March brought some parts of the country to a virtual standstill.

Parliament took a step on Wednesday that maintained the long-standing format of the panel that selects judges. But some inside Netanyahu’s government say the committee won’t agree until new legislation is passed to reconstitute the group so as to give government representatives an automatic majority.

Using a more piecemeal approach to judicial review, Netanyahu could try to appeal to his hardline coalition partners, who insist they see some progress on their goals, while trying to make the changes easier for critics to digest.

“The new piecemeal approach, legislating chapter by chapter, is obviously much more politically sophisticated,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Jerusalem. “You bring one issue at a time into the political discourse,” he said, making it harder for opponents to mobilize protests as the question of what to come becomes ambiguous.

The stakes could hardly be higher for Netanyahu and the country as a whole. Shelving the judicial review plan could mean a government collapse and a return to the kind of political instability that has led Israel to hold five elections in the past four years.

But going ahead without broad public support could further strain Israel’s relationship with the Biden administration and disrupt the economy. Amir Yaron, the governor of Israel’s central bank, said this week that the continued uncertainty and instability created by the judicial proposals “could have significant economic costs”.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has warned that the the schism could lead to civil war.

Parliament voted on Tuesday in favor of a piece of legislation advancing the judicial review plan, sparking another tumultuous day of protests. That bill needs to pass two more votes to become law, and the government appears set to hold the final vote before Parliament breaks into its summer recess later this month.

The bill in question would prevent Israeli courts from using the legal standard of “reasonableness” to overrule government policy or appointment decisions, removing one of its main tools of judicial scrutiny. On Wednesday, a parliamentary committee began preparing the bill for second and third readings.

The bill moved forward after a three-month hiatus during which the government and opposition tried but failed to reach a compromise on the proposed broader revision.

Some Israeli legal experts say there is an argument for limiting the court’s use of the vague standard of reasonableness, which has never been defined in Israeli law. Mr Netanyahu said this week that the judicial change “was not the end of democracy, but rather the strengthening of democracy”.

Proponents of the review said the courts had other tools to oversee government appointments and decisions, without relying on reasonableness. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a staunch supporter, described the restraint on reasonableness as “an essential necessity” – one, he said, which actually enjoys “broad support”.

But many jurists have denounced what they call the drastic version of the bill, saying it could be used by Netanyahu to replace the attorney general and halt his own trial on corruption charges. Mr. Netanyahu has denied any such reasons and any wrongdoing.

It’s hard to know. The current bill, while controversial, does not include some of the more controversial changes previously proposed by Netanyahu’s far-right coalition.

The question on many people’s minds is whether Netanyahu will stand still after passing this bill in the hopes that it will satisfy his coalition partners. Or he will make more changes piecemeal, as the opposition fears.

In an example of how opaque the situation isNetanyahu said in an interview last week that he rejected a particularly controversial part of the judicial review plan that would allow Parliament to overrule Supreme Court decisions. But many of his ministers have since said he remains on the agenda.

The bill to change the composition of the judges’ selection committee was suspended after a wave of protests in March, but could be brought back to Parliament for approval at any time.

Netanyahu is caught between stabilizing his coalition, which includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties who have their own reasons for wanting to limit the Supreme Court’s powers, and fury from more liberal Israelis who are likely to escalate the protests if and when the bill law on “reasonableness” will go to the final vote.

“Netanyahu remains very ambiguous that this will be the last chapter, while other members of the government are very vocal about their intention to continue,” Plesner said. “Nobody really knows.”

Outnumbered in Parliament, Israel’s opposition parties lack the power to pass judicial legislation on their own.

But popular reaction to the overhaul has come from the power centers of Israeli society, including hundreds of volunteers in the most elite ranks of the military reserves, along with leaders of the vaunted high-tech industry, academia, the medical profession and the powerful trade unions. . All these power players joined forces and forced Netanyahu to suspend the review a few months ago.

Reservists from prestigious army units are again threatening to stop volunteering if the review goes ahead.

Arnon Bar-David, president of the Histadrut, the main union, on Tuesday called on Netanyahu to “stop the mad chaos in Israeli society.” He stopped threatening an imminent general strike, but told union leaders: “When I feel things have gone too far, we will use our strength.”