Israeli opposition leader says no progress on judicial overhaul talks

FILE PHOTO: Protests against Israel's judicial overhaul and dismissing the defense minister, in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli parties have made no progress towards a compromise over the government's bitterly disputed judicial overhaul package after a month of meetings, Benny Gantz, head of one of the largest opposition parties, said on Monday.

The planned overhaul, which would give the government control over naming judges to the Supreme Court and let parliament override many rulings, was paused after some of the biggest street protests ever seen in Israel.

President Isaac Herzog has overseen meetings between various political parties, aiming to overcome divisions. The government says the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and restore balance between parliament and the courts.

However, Gantz, defence minister in the previous government, said the talks were "not really progressing on any of the issues". In particular, he pointed to a standoff over one of the central issues, the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee, which appoints judges and would be controlled by members from the government camp under current plans.

"We set out with a number of principles, first and foremost that there will be no politicization of the judicial system. It hasn't changed and it won't change," he said, as the Knesset parliament returned from its spring break.

Opponents say the proposals would remove vital checks and balances and give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist-religious coalition free rein, threatening minority rights and undermining Israel's democratic foundations.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets every week since the start of the year, with opponents including most of the business establishment, lawyers, academics and significant numbers of military reservists.

The dispute drew in the army, with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warning that the divisions were threatening national security and calling for a halt. The comments prompted Netanyahu to fire Gallant before reversing course after an outcry.

The government and supporters have said they hope for compromise but have vowed not to back down and have organised large counter demonstrations.

(This story has been corrected to show that Gantz's party is not the largest opposition party, in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)