What the ruling against Netanyahu’s judiciary overhaul means for Israel and war in Gaza

Israel opened 2024 with what could be a major shift in the war, announcing it's withdrawing several thousand troops from Gaza. Amid the fighting, Israel's Supreme Court rejected a key part of Prime Minister Netanyahu's judicial overhaul. The plan sparked deep divisions, but they've largely been put aside since Hamas attacked on Oct. 7. Geoff Bennett discussed more with NPR's Daniel Estrin.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Israel has opened 2024 with what could be a major shift in the war in Gaza. The military announced today it's withdrawing several thousand troops, the first such move since the war started.

    Meantime, Israel airstrikes again hit Central Gaza. The Associated Press reported a missile strike killed at least 17 people. To the south, Palestinian children in Rafah said they're praying for peace in the new year.

  • Layan Harara, Displaced Palestinian (through interpreter):

    I wish to not die in 2024. Our childhood is gone. There is no bathroom, no food and no water, only tents. There is no safe space. There is nothing. Our wish is to go back to our homes and end this.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Amid the fighting in Gaza, there was news on the political front in Israel.

    In an 8-7 decision, the country's Supreme Court rejected a key part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul. The plan sparked deep divisions, but they have largely been put aside since Hamas attacked on October 7.

    We turn now to NPR international correspondent Daniel Estrin, who is in Tel Aviv, for more on all of this.

    So, Daniel, tell us, on what grounds did Israel's Supreme Court strike down that law that limited its power and oversight? And what exactly are the implications?

  • Daniel Estrin, NPR:

    The Israeli Supreme Court said that it was an overreach, that the Supreme Court in Israel's democracy is part of the separation of powers and that the Supreme Court quite simply has the power of oversight over the government, that the law that Israel passed several months ago was trying to strip the Supreme Court of one of its key powers, the power of oversight in certain decisions.

    And this is opening — it could potentially open a Pandora's box in Israel at this very sensitive time, as the government is waging a war. The government is facing very low approval ratings, according to polls. Netanyahu's government has lost between a third and a fourth of its support during this war and because of the war.

    And now a government which is trying to hold on to power needs to face a public that largely sees it as lacking that legitimacy and while it's waging a war at this catastrophic time for Israel.

    And so now, with this divisive issue coming back up in the Israeli public, this issue of the separation of powers, an issue that brought out hundreds of thousands of Israelis to protest in the months leading up to the war, it's a big question whether the government will continue to keep this polarizing issue of changing the makeup of Israel's separation of powers, will continue to keep that on the back burner while it while it wages the war.

    Will it take up this issue again now that the Supreme Court has struck it down?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    I want to ask you about this other significant development today, Israel's military announcing the drawdown of troops for the first time since the war started.

    Israel had called up more than 220,000 reservists at the start of this conflict, pulling them from the work force and putting them into battle. Help us understand the timing. Why now? Why this the scaling back now of troops in Gaza?

  • Daniel Estrin:

    An Israeli defense official told me that Israel believes that it has attained some operational gains in the war so far, speaking about the number of Hamas militants killed, weapons confiscated, tunnels destroyed in Gaza.

    He describes largely Gaza's northern area as under Israel's operational control, most of it. There still is some fighting there, and the fighting is based chiefly now in Khan Yunis, which is Gaza's second largest city in the southern area of the Gaza Strip.

    And so with these gains that Israel sees in the war, it is allowing itself to draw back some of its troops. This also comes, of course, as the U.S. has called on Israel to take this significant step to transition this war from the high-intensity bombardment that we have seen with enormous death tolls on Gaza's side, nearly reaching 22,000 people, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, and to transition it to a more lower-intensity conflict, lower intensity in terms of more concentrated, more pinpointed — pinpointed raids at high-value targets and less of this wide-scale offensive.

    And so that is the backdrop. But the way that the army is portraying it, it says that Israeli reservist soldiers need to go back to their families. They need to go back to their jobs. The economy has been lagging as people have been called up to war. And so they need to be given this breather.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Daniel, when you talk to Israelis in the course of your daily reporting, what do they tell you about Netanyahu's leadership, the war with Hamas, and the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza right now?

  • Daniel Estrin:

    This is a moment in the war where you do sense a growing sense of skepticism and debate among the Israeli public about what kind of victory Israel can achieve against Hamas.

    For many on the center-left, they see that Israel is not reaching a deal with Hamas. They would like to see the combat put on pause, at least, and to try to reach a deal with Hamas for the release of the remaining hostages, more than 100 still remaining in Gaza.

    For those on the right, many say that Israel is not hitting Gaza hard enough, and that a complete victory would be a complete occupation of the Gaza Strip, and seeing to it even that Palestinians are transferred out of Gaza to neighboring countries.

    But Israeli soldiers are being killed and wounded every day, very, very high numbers for an Israeli operation. And you get a sense that people are feeling that that victory, that decisive victory that Israel promised may not be achievable.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    NPR international correspondent Daniel Estrin.

    Daniel, thank you for sharing your reporting and insights with us.

  • Daniel Estrin:

    You're welcome.

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