European Parliament invites High Representative to discuss judicial reform in Israel

European Parliament invites High Representative to discuss judicial reform in Israel
Demonstration in Tel Aviv, 4 March 2023

The European Parliament plans to hold a discussion on Tuesday evening in Strasbourg on the deterioration of democracy in Israel and the consequences in the occupied territories to which EU’s foreign policy chief, High Representative Josep Borrell, has been invited.

As previously reported, Israel is currently rocked by mass demonstrations against the far-right government’s proposal for a judicial reform which it is trying to push through the parliament against the other half of the population which did not vote for it and despite protests from all sectors of society.

The new Israeli government was democratically elected and claims that it got a mandate to restore the proper balance between the different branches of government and legislate against what it considers the overreach of the judiciary.

According to the political opposition and the protest movement, the reform should rather be called a judicial coup because of its far-reaching consequences for the rule of law in the country and the way how the government is pushing it through in a number of weeks without any broad agreement.

In a speech to the nation last week, Israel’s president denounced the proposed reform as a nightmare and a threat to Israel’s cohesion and democracy.  He called on the government to shelve it to enable a discussion on a consensus proposal which he would put forward and which he hoped would bridge the gap between the government and the opposition

Asked by The Brussels Times at the Commission’s press briefing on Monday about EU’s position, EU’s lead spokesperson on foreign affairs, Peter Stano, replied that the High Representative will not have much to say about the judicial reform besides than expressing his concerns about the spiraling vicious circle of violence in the occupied territories.

“We see that there are very lively discussions in Israel about the reform, both in the institutions and in the streets,” he said. “We never doubted the democratic nature of Israel and the ability of Israel to deal with the issue. It’s not our task to enter an on-going debate which hasn’t been concluded yet, saying what is right or wrong.”

That said, he added that the EU is closely following developments in Israel as it is an important partner to the EU with shared values and principles, such as the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and democracy. In fact, the proposed judicial reform, if it will be implemented in its current form, risk undermining these values and principles or even spell the end of Israeli’s liberal democracy.

For the time being, the Israeli government has failed to heed the president’s call to the government to suspend the legislative process and there is nothing to indicate that the country is going to avoid the abyss to which it is heading with the proposed reform.

Why did Borrell react last week against the adoption of a minor law in Georgia on “foreign influence” while keeping the silence about a far-reaching judicial overhaul in Israel?

Georgia is another matter, the spokesperson replied. “He reacted for a simple reason. Georgia has showed an interest in joining the EU and has to comply with 12 conditions or priorities. With one single law it managed to infringe on two of them.”

Josep Borrell issued a statement last week on behalf of the EU denouncing unilateral measures and the violence by both sides that will further derail the already dormant peace process. There is no doubt that he is engaged in these issues but his spokesperson declined to comment on whether the proposed judicial will aggravate the situation – the very topic the Parliament has invited him to discuss.

Silence on the judicial reform might play into the hands of those forces that already consider the “deterioration of democracy in Israel” a fact and do not care if the proposed reform will result in a constitutional crisis which will weaken one of EU’s most important partners with which it has close economic, cultural, scientific and security relations.

Why does Borrell not apply ‘quiet diplomacy” and meet his Israeli partners behind closed doors to convey his concerns about the reform before it is too late?

“We have of course regular contacts with our partners to convey our messages, views and expectations. This is what diplomacy is about but it doesn’t necessarily have to be through statements or visits in person on the ground. Our Israeli partners know very well our expectations and concerns.”

Ahead of the discussion today, MEPs have received a message from Israeli mission to the EU stating that the protests taking place in Israel are an expression of both the controversy of the judicial reform and the ability of the Israeli public to exercise its democratic rights. “This is an internal Israeli process which is ongoing and has not yet reached its final stages.”

The statement adds “that there is no immediate impact of this issue on the Palestinians, and as much as the EU has concerns in this regard, they can be discussed through the appropriate channels”. While the statement seems to echo the replies of the EU spokesperson, it remains to be seen if Josep Borrell will agree on the implications of the proposed judicial reform on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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