Debate resumes in Iran over normalization of relations with US

Netanyahu leaves hospital as Israel faces key referendum – and crisis – over divisive legal changes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was released from hospital on Monday after emergency heart surgery, facing an unprecedented national crisis ahead of parliament’s vote on the first major law to overhaul the country’s justice system.

Demonstrators, many of whom believe the government’s plan is destroying the very foundations of their country, stepped up their protest and blocked the road to parliament. Businesses closed their doors in protest against the referendum.

Driven by a ruling coalition made up of ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties, the judicial overhaul has divided Israel, tested the delicate social ties that bind the country, undermined the cohesion of its powerful military, and drawn repeated concern even from its closest ally, the United States.

Efforts were underway to find one last compromise to find an agreement on the way forward, including a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the hospital where Netanyahu was being treated. But it is unclear whether they will lead to a compromise ahead of a vote expected on Monday afternoon.

Earlier Monday, protesters blocked the road to the Knesset with drums and horns blowing, and police used water cannons to push them back. The protest movement said that one of its leaders was arrested.

„The State of Israel is facing ruin and destruction, brought upon it by a mob of extremists and kooks. We must go to Jerusalem today!” A section of the protest movement took to social media to call out the protesters.

Israeli media reported that a federation of businesses announced late Sunday that some of their members would not open Monday in protest at the government’s plans, which led to large shopping malls and some gas stations closing their doors.

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The dramatic events were closely watched in Washington, from where the Biden administration has often spoken out against Netanyahu’s government and its restructuring plan. In a statement to the news site Axios late Sunday, Biden cautioned against pushing for legislative changes.

„Given the range of threats and challenges Israel now faces, there is no point in Israeli leaders rushing this – they should focus on pulling people together and finding consensus,” he told the site.

Netanyahu’s sudden hospitalization for a pacemaker implant added another whirlwind of already dramatic events that have left his country bitterly divided and determined to shape Israel’s future.

Netanyahu’s doctors said Sunday the procedure went smoothly. In a short video statement from the hospital late Sunday, Netanyahu, 73, said he was doing well and thanked his doctors for their treatment and the public who wished him well.

Dressed in a white dress shirt and dark blazer, Netanyahu said he was reconciling with his opponents as he prepared for Monday’s vote.

„I want you to know that tomorrow morning I will join my colleagues in the Knesset,” he said.

The overhaul calls for sweeping changes aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary, from curbing the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge parliamentary decisions to changing the way judges are selected.

Netanyahu and his far-right allies, a coalition of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, say changes are needed to limit the powers of unelected judges. Their opponents, mostly from Israel’s professional middle class, say the plan would destroy the country’s fragile system of checks and balances and push Israel into authoritarian rule.

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The plan has sparked seven months of mass protests, drawn sharp criticism from business and medical leaders, and a rapidly increasing number of military security forces in key units have said they will stop reporting for duty if the plan goes through, raising concerns that Israel’s security could be threatened.

President Herzog, who returned Sunday from a visit to the White House, immediately rushed to Netanyahu’s hospital room.

„It’s emergency time,” Herzog said. „We need to reach an agreement.”

Herzog held meetings with Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, leader of another opposition party, National Unity, later Sunday.

As they spoke, tens of thousands of people gathered for and against the project. Netanyahu’s supporters marched in central Tel Aviv — usually the setting for anti-government protests — while his opponents marched on Israel’s Knesset, or parliament.

Many of the protesters in Jerusalem camped out in a nearby park after completing a four-day march into the city from Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Adding to the pressure on the Israeli leader, thousands of army guards have announced their refusal to serve under a government that is taking measures they see as putting the country on a path to dictatorship. Those moves have fueled fears that the military’s readiness could be compromised.

„These are dangerous cracks,” Army chief Lt. Gen. Herzey Halevi wrote in a letter to the military on Sunday seeking to resolve tensions. „If we don’t have a strong and unified military, if the best don’t serve in the IDF, we can no longer be a country in the region.”

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Despite efforts to present business as usual, Netanyahu’s schedule was disrupted by his hospitalization. His weekly cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday morning was postponed. Two upcoming overseas trips to Cyprus and Turkey are being rescheduled, his office said.

In a vote on Monday, lawmakers are set to decide on a sweeping overhaul that would prevent judges from striking down government decisions on grounds of „unfairness.”

Supporters say the current „fairness” standard gives judges too much power over decision-making by elected officials. Removing it would allow the government to make arbitrary decisions, make improper appointments or firings, and open the door to corruption, critics say.

Opponents from a broad swath of Israeli society see the power grab as fueled by personal and political grievances between Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, and his allies who want to deepen Israel’s control over the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night, a week after being hospitalized for what doctors said was diabetes.

The sudden hospitalization for a pacemaker operation indicates that Netanyahu’s health problems are more serious than he initially let on.

Netanyahu and his far-right allies announced the restructuring plan in January, just days after taking office.

Netanyahu suspended the transition in March after heavy pressure from protesters and labor strikes that grounded outbound flights and shut down parts of the economy. He said his government was pressing for reform after talks on a compromise collapsed last month.

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