Netanyahu finally flinches after months of protests

Briefly: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu suspended his controversial judicial reforms on Monday after the country’s turmoil started to spread to the military, universities and beyond. The defiant PM said he’ll push the reforms again in late April when Israel’s Knesset (parliament) returns from recess.

The crisis escalated over the weekend when Israel’s defence minister warned the proposed overhaul (weakening the Supreme Court) was endangering Israel’s security; he said many armed force reservists were now refusing to serve.

But when Bibi promptly fired the defence minister, half a million Israelis took to the streets, and many stuck around until they were water-cannoned home at 3 AM.

Israel’s main trade union also called a national strike, shuttering flights, universities, Israeli embassies abroad, and even the country’s McDonald’s branches.

Intrigue’s take: Netanyahu is one of the world’s savviest political operators, but he’s now tied himself up in a classic Gordian knot:

  • He can’t afford the legislation’s opponents grinding the country to a halt any longer, and yet
  • He can’t afford to abandon the legislation either, as some of its backers have threatened to ditch Bibi’s fragile coalition and trigger new elections.

Bibi’s decision to briefly suspend the judicial overhaul buys him some time to lower the temperature and maybe negotiate a way forward. He’s shown a remarkable instinct for this kind of political survival over the years. But this time around, might he have flown too close to the sun?

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