Israel may pursue some judicial reforms by August, lawmaker says

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government could pass part of its contested judicial overhaul by August if compromise talks with the opposition fail, a senior lawmaker in the ruling religious-nationalist coalition said on Monday.

The proposed reforms, which would curb some Supreme Court powers and increase government sway over appointments to the bench, have set off unprecedented protests in Israel and Western worries for the independence of Israel's judiciary.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges that he denies, said the overhaul aims to balance out branches of government and redress court overreach. But he put the legislation on hold in late March to enable negotiations with opposition parties.

"If they (opposition) don't want to reach agreement, we will, in my opinion, have to move ahead with some of the reforms," Simcha Rothman, a coalition lawmaker who heads a key review committee in the Knesset, told Channel 12 TV when asked about plans for the parliamentary session that ends on July 30.

He added that he believed a bill reordering the system for selecting judges was "ripest" for ratification as it has already passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset, 64 of whose 120 seats are controlled by the coalition.

There was no immediate reaction from Netanyahu, who has previously voiced hope a compromise deal will emerge from the so-far fruitless talks overseen by President Isaac Herzog.

"The effort to reach agreements in the President's House is the main effort," Netanyahu's national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said in a public appearance on Saturday. "He (the prime minister) believes it is possible, too."

With other lawmakers trading barbs across the aisle over the proposed overhaul, Herzog called for reining in the rhetoric.

"The State of Israel is at a critical moment of utmost importance. The easy thing to do would be to blow up the talks, but the cost would be unbearable," he said in a statement.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Mark Heinrich)