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Israel's Netanyahu to continue judicial overhaul despite security warnings

In a televised address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed ahead for Knesset approval next week of the next step in the controversial plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Thursday evening to do all that he can to bring the sides together on the controversial judicial overhaul plan, but did not pledge to halt the legislation process.

Addressing Israelis on TV in prime time, the Israeli prime minister said that the next phase of the judicial overhaul — a bill changing the composition of the committee for selecting judges — will be brought to Knesset for final approval on Monday.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had originally planned address Israelis on Thursday night as well, to call on Netanyahu and on their coalition partners to immediately halt the legislation. Before the scheduled speech, Gallant met with Netanyahu, presenting to him the security risks of the widening rift within the Israeli people. Despite these security concerns, Gallant eventually backed away from making a public statement.

Netanyahu welcomed the Knesset vote on Wednesday on a legislation that prevents impeachment of a sitting prime minister absent of health reasons. Until Wednesday, Netanyahu was prohibited from dealing with the details of the judicial overhaul. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara made that ruling based on the ongoing bribery trial against Netanyahu and on basis of ensuing conflict of interest. But with the threat of impeachment gone, Netanyahu said he will get involved.   “Until now, my hands were bound. Now I am getting involved," he said. 

"In order to prevent a rift within the Israeli people, each side must listen to the other,’’ Netanyahu said. Still, he criticized the Supreme Court for interfering for years in issues allegedly outside of its legal responsibilities. 

He argued that the current bill has already been softened to take opponents' concerns into account. He then added that the new law will be put in front of the Knesset for approval this coming Monday. ''This is not the end of democracy; this is making democracy stronger,'' Netanyahu said. Others, however, have warned that the proposed legislations would strike a blow to the separation of powers in Israel, and undermine the country's High Court. 

The speech ended the speculation that Netanyahu would agree to suspend the judicial overhaul and open negotiations with the protesters. But massive demonstrations on Thursday created what opponents called ‘’day of paralysis.’’ Even as Netanyahu was speaking, major highway junctions and traffic routes were blocked. Demonstrators gathered across the country, including many in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, in an open criticism against ultra-Orthodox politicians allegedly supporting the judicial overhaul for sectorial reasons.

Netanyahu is set to fly to London early Friday morning, where he will meet with his British counterparts. Israelis living in the UK have said they will demonstrate against the judicial overhaul during his two-day visit to the British capital. 

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