Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel rejected President Joe Biden’s recommendation to abandon the legal system overhaul, emphasizing that Israel has the authority to make its own decisions. The disagreement between the two allies is unusual and highlights increasing tension over Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, which he delayed following large demonstrations.
When questioned by reporters on Tuesday evening about his expectations for the legislation, Biden expressed his hope that the prime minister would abandon it. The president also stated that Netanyahu’s administration should not pursue this course of action and appealed for a resolution to the controversy in Israel. In addition, Biden avoided commenting on Ambassador Thomas Nides’ indication that Netanyahu would receive an invitation to the White House soon, stating that such an invitation was unlikely in the near future.
Netanyahu replied that Israel is sovereign and “makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”
The frosty exchange came a day after Netanyahu called for a halt to his government’s contentious legislation “to avoid civil war” in the wake of two consecutive days of mass protests that drew tens of thousands of people to Israel’s streets.
“Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen,” Biden said to reporters as he left North Carolina to return to Washington.
Netanyahu and his religious and ultranationalist allies announced the judicial overhaul in January just days after forming their government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
The proposal has plunged Israel into its worst domestic crisis in decades. Business leaders, top economists and former security chiefs have all come out against the plan, saying it is pushing the country toward dictatorship.
The plan would give Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, and his allies the final say in appointing the nation’s judges. It would also give parliament, which is controlled by his allies, authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit the court’s ability to review laws.
Critics say the legislation would concentrate power in the hands of the coalition in parliament and upset the balance of checks and balances between branches of government.
Netanyahu said he was “striving to achieve via a broad consensus” in talks with opposition leaders that began Tuesday.
Yair Lapid, the opposition leader in Israel’s parliament, wrote on Twitter that Israel was the US’s closest allay or decades but “the most radical government in the country’s history ruined that in three months.”