President Isaac Herzog's office describes talks between working teams representing ruling coalition, Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party — two centrist parties — as "a first dialogue meeting".
Israel's most far-right government ever and opposition parties have ended a "positive" first meeting on controversial judiciary reforms that sparked a general strike and mass protests, in the country's most severe domestic crisis in years.
"After about an hour and a half, the meeting, which took place in a positive spirit, came to an end," President Isaac Herzog's office said late on Tuesday.
"Tomorrow, President Isaac Herzog will continue the series of meetings," it added.
His office described talks between working teams representing the ruling coalition, Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party — two centrist parties — as "a first dialogue meeting".
"We thank the president for opening his house to the negotiation process for the benefit of the citizens of Israel," Yesh Atid tweeted.
After three months of increasing tensions that split the nation and raised concerns among the United States and other allies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to pressure in the face of a nationwide walkout on Monday.
The strike hit airports, hospitals and more, while tens of thousands of reform opponents rallied outside parliament in Jerusalem.
"Out of a will to prevent a rupture among our people, I have decided to pause the second and third readings of the bill" to allow time for dialogue, the prime minister said in a broadcast.
The decision to halt the legislative process marked a dramatic U-turn for the premier, who just a day earlier announced he was sacking his defence minister who had called for the very same step.
The move was greeted with suspicion in Israel, with the president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank remarking it does not amount to a peace deal.
"Rather, it's a ceasefire perhaps for regrouping, reorganising, reorienting and then charging — potentially — charging ahead," Yohanan Plesner told journalists.
READ MORE: Israeli president calls for inter-party dialogue on judicial overhaul plans
הבהרנו כי אנו מצפים להוריד את החקיקה שהונחה בלילה בכנסת, כדי להתחיל דיון בדף חלק.— 🟠 יש עתיד (@YeshAtidParty) March 28, 2023
אנו רואים חשיבות בכך שכל העקרונות שנסכים עליהם כאן יהיו בהסכמה רחבה של נציגי הציבור, שתשקף הסכמה לאומית של אזרחי ישראל.
'Ruse or bluff'
Opposition leader Yair Lapid reacted warily, saying on Monday he wanted to be sure "that there is no ruse or bluff".
A joint statement on Tuesday from Lapid's party and that of Benny Gantz, a former defence minister, said such talks would stop immediately "if the law is put on the Knesset's [parliament's] agenda".
The opposition had previously refused to negotiate the reforms — which would hand politicians more power over the judiciary — until the legislative process was stopped.
"The goal is to reach an agreement," Netanyahu said in a statement on Tuesday.
Activists vowed to continue their rallies, which have continued routinely for weeks, sometimes drawing tens of thousands of protesters.
"We will not stop the protest until the judicial coup is completely stopped," the Umbrella Movement of demonstrators said.
READ MORE: Ben-Gvir gets ‘national guard’ for consenting to delaying judicial reforms
'No turning back'
The crisis has revealed deep rifts within Netanyahu's fledgling coalition, an alliance with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, in a tweet on Monday, asserted "there will be no turning back" on the judicial overhaul.
Fellow firebrand cabinet member, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, had pressed his supporters to rally in favour of the reforms.
Ben-Gvir's Jewish Power party revealed on Monday that the decision to delay the legislation involved an agreement to expand the minister's portfolio after he threatened to quit if the overhaul was put on hold.
Writing in the left-wing daily Haaretz, political correspondent Yossi Verter said the pause was "a victory for the protesters, but the one who really bent Netanyahu and trampled on him is Itamar Ben-Gvir".
The affair has hit the coalition's standing among the Israeli public, just three months after it took office.
Netanyahu's Likud party has dipped seven points, according to a poll by Israel's Channel 12 which predicted the government would lose its majority in the 120-seat parliament if elections were held.
The fate of the ousted defence minister, Yoav Gallant, was unknown on Tuesday with speculation in Israeli media that he could be reinstated.
Gallant, who had warned the crisis threatened national security, on Monday welcomed "the decision to stop the legislative process in order to conduct dialogue," his team said.
READ MORE: Israel turmoil: Thousands protest as Netanyahu delays judicial overhaul