Israeli military reservists protest against the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, on a freeway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on Feb. 9, 2023. Image Credit: AP

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had dropped a central element of the bitterly contested judicial overhaul plans which have roiled Israel for months and was no longer seeking to grant parliament the authority to overturn Supreme Court rulings.

But in a filmed interview posted on the Wall Street Journal website on Thursday, Netanyahu said he would still push ahead with another controversial element that looks to give the ruling coalition more sway in judicial appointments, though that proposal would be revised.

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“I threw that out,” Netanyahu said of the highly-contested clause that would allow a majority of lawmakers to override decisions of the Supreme Court.

Shifting to the proposed method of choosing judges, Netanyahu said, “it’s not going to be the current structure, but it’s not going to be the original structure.” He gave no details.

Netanyahu unveiled his plan to rejig Israel’s court system shortly after returning to power at the start of year, saying the Supreme Court had been increasingly encroaching into political areas where it had no authority.

The plan triggered massive protests, opening up deep splits in society between supporters of Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition and large sections of civil society who see the plans as a threat to democracy.

Trial on graft charges

After weeks of demonstrations and in the face of increasingly nervous financial markets, Netanyahu paused the plan in March to try to reach a consensus in negotiations with the opposition which have so far failed to produce a result.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on graft charges he denies, has appeared to back-pedal on the judicial revamp on previous occasions, but his coalition remains committed to pushing through changes that could still limit the Supreme Court’s power to rule against the government.

Opposition leaders offered no immediate reaction to Netanyahu’s latest comments. His office referred Reuters to the interview and did not offer additional details.

Also in the interview, Netanyahu reiterated that while Israel was helping Ukraine with civilian defences and an alert system, it could not supply military systems like its Iron Dome missile interceptor.

“We’re concerned also with the possibility that systems that we would give to Ukraine would fall into Iranian hands and could be reverse engineered - and we would find ourselves facing Israeli systems used against Israel.” He noted that Western anti-tank systems have found their way to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Should Iron Dome, which has intercepted thousands of rockets, “fall in the hands of Iran, then millions of Israelis would be left defenceless and imperilled,” he said.

“We’re not neutral, we’ve expressed our sympathy and our position with Ukraine. But I’m saying there’s a limit, limitations that we have, and concerns and interests that we have.”