(JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, citing a sharp rise in violence in recent days, and suggested that proposed changes to the country’s judicial system that have sparked widespread protest were no longer imminent.
In another concession to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have flooded the streets to protest the planned changes, Netanyahu added on Monday that a yet-to-be established national guard corps would not answer directly to his far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir.
“In recent days, we have worked and stood together around the clock on all fronts in the face of security challenges,” Netanyahu said, referencing multiple terror attacks that have rocked Israel, in addition to rockets fired from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip over the Passover holiday. “We had differences, even tough differences, on a number of topics, but I decided to leave these differences behind us. Gallant remains in his job.”
Netanyahu fired Gallant, a member of his Likud Party, late last month after the defense minister called for a pause in legislation that would sap much of the Supreme Court’s power and independence. The proposed reforms triggered a massive protest movement and criticism from across the political spectrum and around the world. After Israeli soldiers began to join the protests by refusing to show up for duty, Gallant called the situation an issue of national security, and his firing added fuel to the fire for protest leaders.
Despite Netanyahu’s announcement of the firing, Gallant had remained in the post.
Asked by a reporter if the reforms were “dead,” Netanyahu said that while he has a “clear mandate to repair the judiciary,” he was now seeking consensus. “What we must concentrate on now is to try and arrive at a broad agreement,” he said, without suggesting a timetable.
Netanyahu also made clear that he was not entrusting the establishment of a proposed new national guard to the minister who demanded it in turn for agreeing to temporarily shelve the judicial legislation. Ben-Gvir had threatened to leave the government unless the guard was established.
“This will not be anyone’s militia, it will be a security body, orderly, professional, that will be subordinate to one of the [existing] security bodies,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also dismissed claims that ties with the United States are suffering because of the Biden administration’s disapproval of the judicial proposals and others favored by the far right in Netanyahu’s coalition.
He noted his friendship of 40 years with Biden and the countries’ close military and intelligence ties. “The U.S. is our indispensable ally,” he said.
He added that he was not worried that Biden had yet to invite him to the White House. “There will be a visit, don’t worry,” he said.
Near the beginning of the press conference, Netanyahu blamed the preceding government and his political opponents for allowing a spike in terror and broadcasting weakness to Israel’s enemies.
His predecessor, Yair Lapid, tweeted after the speech that Netanyahu was “losing control in front of the nation.” Lapid, who is currently leader of the parliamentary opposition, also praised Netanyahu’s decision to retain Gallant.
“It’s time for him and his ministers to stop whining and to finally take responsibility,” Lapid wrote.