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Israel president urges leaders to seize moment to end judicial crisis

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel's President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rivals to reach a compromise that would end the judicial crisis just a week ahead of a crunch court hearing.

Herzog said on Monday he has been speaking with coalition and opposition leaders over the past few weeks in a renewed push to reach broad agreements that would stave off a constitutional crisis and safeguard democracy after months of protests.

"There are moments in such a crisis when leadership must seize the rare opportunity in order to reach out and come to an agreement. This is such a moment," Herzog said in a speech. "Enough already. I call on the leaders to show responsibility."

His call comes before the Supreme Court, for the first time in Israeli history, convenes its entire 15-judge bench on Sept. 12 to hear an appeal against an amendment that curbs its own powers, passed in July by Netanyahu's coalition.

Netanyahu's nationalist-religious coalition launched a campaign in January to overhaul the country's justice system, sparking unprecedented protests, bruising the economy and stirring concern for Israel's democratic health.

Netanyahu has since said some of the measures in the original plan have been scrapped and that he would seek a broad consensus on any new judicial reforms, which he says are aimed at restoring balance between the branches of government.

In a video released by his Likud party, Netanyahu called on one of the opposition leaders, former defence minister Benny Gantz, to negotiate directly, saying agreements were possible.

On Monday Likud denied reports in Israeli media that Netanyahu had agreed to soften the July 24 law that limited some Supreme Court power to rule against the executive, freeze any further judicial legislation for 18 months and scrap changes to the makeup of the committee that selects judges.

Gantz in a speech to his party on Tuesday, confirmed some of the leaked details of the proposals and put the onus on Netanyahu to overcome hardliners in his coalition who are pushing to plough ahead with the overhaul.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the driving force behind the judicial overhaul, dismissed the reports as "trial balloons", in an interview to Army Radio and said it would be wrong for the Supreme Court to intervene in the judicial legislation.

The Supreme Court is set to hear a series of appeals this month by lawmakers and watchdogs that challenge some of the government's judicial measures.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell;Editing by Alison Williams)