Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN Sunday his country would remain a “robust democracy” despite controversial plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system.
Amid widespread protests, a historic nationwide strike and mounting international pressure last month Netayahu delayed votes on the changes, which would have amounted to the most sweeping overhaul of the Israeli legal system since the country’s founding.
With the Israeli parliament starting its summer session on Sunday the proposals could be back in play.
Netanyahu told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the weeks of protests were “a sign of the robustness of the public debate which I am working to resolve with as broad a consensus as I can.”
“One thing I guarantee you,” Netanyahu told Zakaria, “at the end of this process, Israel – that was a democracy, is a democracy – will remain as robust a democracy.”
But he indicated that he may be backing away from one of the most controversial aspects of the overhaul: giving parliament the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority.
“We cannot move the pendulum from one side – the most activist judicial branch on the planet … to the other side, where you would have the parliament essentially overriding with a simple majority the decisions of the Supreme Court,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel has been thrown off balance,” Netanyahu argued, as he often does when defending the judicial overhaul program. “The big challenge is to bring it back to a balance that is accepted in most democracies… without going to the side that would indeed remove checks and balances on the power of the majority.”
Netanyahu dismissed the idea that the controversy around the judicial overhaul plan would drive high-tech businesses out of the country, though some leaders of the normally apolitical tech sector have warned loudly against weakening the independence of Israel’s courts.
“I am very, very sanguine in the middle term and long term about Israel’s economy, and, given that I am going to pass a budget in the next few weeks, in the short term as well,” he said.
Zakaria also pressed Netanyahu on Iran, asking him if his opposition to the nuclear deal was misguided. Netanyahu insisted it was not.
“If you want to stop Iran from becoming a military nuclear power, the only way to stop them is with a credible military threat,” the Israeli leader said, arguing that strategy had worked against dictators including Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Bashir al-Assad of Syria and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
“The onus is on all of us” – Israel, the United States and our Arab neighbors – “to stop Iran from becoming a military nuclear power,” he said.
Netanyahu also rejected Zakaria’s suggestion that the flare-up of violence between Israel and the Palestinians could torpedo Israel’s warming relations with its Arab neighbors.
“Peace with the major Arab countries is not only possible, it is likely,” Netanyahu said. “I am doing everything I can to advance it. It will be a pivot of history. It will end the Arab-Israeli conflict. And it will advance the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”