March 5. 2024. 1:26

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Biden urges Netanyahu to abandon judicial overhaul


US President Joe Biden on Tuesday (28 March) urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon a judicial overhaul proposal that led to massive protests in Israel, prompting the Israeli leader to say he does not make decisions based on pressure from abroad.

Netanyahu on Monday delayed the overhaul proposal after large numbers of people spilled into the streets. The White House initially said in response that Netanyahu should seek a compromise on the issue.

But Biden went further in taking questions from reporters on Tuesday. “I hope he walks away from it,” Biden said, referring to the judicial proposal that would give the Israeli government greater control over appointments to the country’s Supreme Court.

Netanyahu quickly issued a statement in response.

“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he said.

Netanyahu said his administration was striving to make reforms “via broad consensus.”

“I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his longstanding commitment to Israel,” Netanyahu said.

He said the Israel-US alliance is unbreakable “and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us.

“My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus,” Netanyahu said.

Pre-Passover toast

The Israeli defence chief whose dismissal by Netanyahu brought the country’s constitutional crisis to a boil is staying in office until further notice, aides said on Tuesday, suggesting government indecision on how to proceed.

Beset by three months of unprecedented protests against his nationalist-religious coalition’s signature plan to overhaul the judiciary, Netanyahu on Monday hit the pause button and called for compromise negotiations with the centre-left opposition.

Netanyahu suspends judicial overhaul after day of Israeli turmoil

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused his signature plan to overhaul Israel’s judiciary after a day of nationwide turmoil when workers joined a general strike against the proposal and hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets.

“Our goal is to reach agreements,” he said in a pre-Passover toast to his staff, likening the crisis to a squabble among family gathered for the Jewish festival that begins next week.

But prospects appeared clouded. The opposition, citing the continued presence of the highly contested bill on parliament’s line-up, threatened to boycott any talks should it proceed.

“The walls of suspicion and hostility are higher than ever,” President Isaac Herzog, who has offered to mediate between the sides, lamented in a speech.

Herzog was set to hold a first meeting with the delegations on Tuesday, his office said.

The suspension of the reforms stabilised Israel’s shaken economy and was welcomed by Western powers. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Reuters he was launching a diplomatic outreach aimed at reburnishing Israel’s democratic credentials internationally.