WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – President Joe Biden spoke Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express “concern” about his government’s planned overhaul of the justice system that has sparked widespread protests across Israel and to encourage compromise.
The White House said Biden reiterated US concerns about measures to undo the isolation of the judiciary from the country’s political system, in a call that a senior administration official described as “sincere and constructive”. There were no immediate indications that Netanyahu was shying away from action, after rejecting a compromise offered by the country’s prime minister last week.
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the leader’s private call, said Biden spoke with Netanyahu “as a friend of Israel in the hope of finding a compromise formula.”
The White House added in a statement that Biden “underlined his belief that democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of the American-Israeli relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by true checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the widest possible base of popular support.” .”
“The President offered his support for ongoing efforts to reach a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those basic principles,” the statement said.
Netanyahu said on Sunday that the legal changes would be implemented responsibly while protecting the basic rights of all Israelis. His government — the country’s most right-wing ever — says the overhaul aims to correct an imbalance that has given courts too much power and prevented lawmakers from carrying out the will of the voting public.
Critics say it will upset Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and push the country toward authoritarianism. Opponents of the measure staged disturbing protests, even involving the country’s military, after more than 700 elite officers from the air force, special forces and the Mossad said they would voluntarily quit their duties.
The conversation followed a Sunday meeting in Egypt between Israeli and Palestinian officials in which they pledged to take steps to ease tensions ahead of the sensitive holiday season. Administration officials praised the outcome of the summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The joint statement states that the parties reaffirmed their commitment to de-escalation and prevention of further violence.
In the call, Biden “reinforced the need for all parties to take immediate, cooperative steps to improve security coordination, condemn all acts of terrorism, and maintain the viability of the two-state solution,” according to the White House.
Israeli and Palestinian delegations met for the second time in less than a month, led by regional allies Egypt and Jordan, as well as the United States, to end a year-long spasm of violence.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks during that time. That includes promises to stop unilateral actions, it said. Israel has pledged to suspend talks on building new settlements for four months and halt plans to legalize unauthorized settlement outposts for six months.
“The two sides agreed to establish a mechanism for curbing and suppressing violence, incitement and incendiary situations and actions,” the statement said. The parties will report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, it added.
The Biden administration remains concerned about the recurrence of nighttime clashes and other violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem during Ramadan two years ago. Clashes on the Temple Mount in 2021 helped trigger the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
According to long-standing agreements, Jews are allowed to visit the site, but not to pray there. But in recent years, the number of visitors has increased, and some are praying silently. Such scenes raised fears among Palestinians that Israel was trying to change the status quo.
Madhani reported from Washington.
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