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Biden warns Israeli leader of legal changes

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President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call on Sunday that democratic values ​​— including “real checks and balances” — should remain a pillar of the U.S.-Israel relationship, a veiled warning to Netanyahu about his incendiary plan to destroy the legal system of the country.

During the phone call between the two leaders, Biden expressed “concern” about Netanyahu’s plan in a “candid and constructive conversation” that lasted about 45 minutes, according to a senior administration official, who asked for anonymity to discuss a diplomatically sensitive conversation.

In a reading of the call, the White House said Biden “underlined his belief that democratic values ​​have always been and must remain a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes must be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”

Biden also supported the political talks now underway in Israel to find a path forward regarding Netanyahu’s desired overhaul. “The president offered his support to ongoing efforts to compromise proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles,” the White House said.

Netanyahu’s proposed changes — which would give Knesset lawmakers control over judicial appointments, eliminate judicial review of legislation, and allow parliament to vote down Supreme Court decisions — have led tens of thousands of Israelis to protest outside the streets, warning that the changes would decimate Israel’s democratic legal system. system by no longer shielding the country’s courts from the political system.

Biden, who has been a staunch supporter of Israel throughout his more than 50 years in politics and has a longstanding relationship with Netanyahu, has carefully warned of the proposals and called for compromise.

In Israel’s parliamentary system, the Supreme Court is seen as the sole check of legislators and the prime minister. Israel’s Supreme Court reviews appeals from lower courts and hears petitions filed against the government and public bodies. It has scrapped laws targeting Ukrainian refugees and African asylum seekers and delayed the eviction of Palestinians in a sensitive neighborhood in Jerusalem. In other cases, rights groups say, it has maintained significant violations of Palestinian rights.

The call to Netanyahu came as US officials, along with Egyptian and Jordanian government officials, helped broker meetings between Israeli and Palestinian political and security officials in an effort to defuse tensions ahead of Ramadan, which also overlaps with Passover this year and Easter.

The senior government official said the rallies in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, were the first for the United States. has played such a role in the Middle East since 2003. Noting that Ramadan has been a time of violent clashes and heightened tensions in the region over the past two years, the official said US officials hoped to de-escalate ahead of the Muslim holy month this year.

The official said a prominent focus of the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh was to “ensure that extremist groups cannot take advantage of this period”. The official said previous Israeli governments in 2021 and 2022 were not receptive to such talks, but the White House was encouraged that both sides were willing to meet this year.

“We had a very frank discussion,” the senior government official said, adding that there was “good intentions on the Israeli and Palestinian sides and a firm commitment, especially during the Ramadan period, to de-escalate as much as possible.”

Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, forged a close relationship with Netanyahu and aligned himself with Israel’s hardline. Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move previous presidents had avoided in an effort to maintain neutrality between Israeli and Palestinian claims to the city.

Netanyahu, for his part, embraced his relationship with Trump, used the image of the US president in his election campaign and made little secret of his support for Trump’s re-election.

Since taking office, Biden, who visited Israel last year, has in some ways kept his distance from Netanyahu and tried to restore America’s traditional position — supporting the Jewish state, but also supporting the Palestinian cause and advocating for a two-state solution .

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