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Biden warns Israeli leader on judicial changes


President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call on Sunday that democratic values — including “genuine checks and balances” — had to remain a pillar of the U.S.-Israel relationship, a veiled warning to Netanyahu about his incendiary plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system.

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 requested anonymity to discuss a diplomatically sensitive conversation.

In a readout of the call, the White House said Biden “underscored 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 should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”

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

Netanyahu’s proposed changes — which would grant Knesset lawmakers control over judicial appointments, eliminate judicial review of legislation and allow parliament to vote down Supreme Court decisions — have led to tens of thousands of Israelis protesting outside the streets and warnings that the changes would decimate Israel’s democratic system by no longer protecting 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 long-standing relationship with Netanyahu, has carefully warned against the proposals and called for compromise.

In Israel’s parliamentary system, the Supreme Court has been seen as the sole check on lawmakers and the prime minister. Israel’s high court both reviews appeals from lower courts and hears petitions filed against the government and public bodies. It has struck down laws targeting Ukrainian refugees and African asylum seekers and has delayed the eviction of Palestinians in a sensitive Jerusalem neighborhood. In other cases, rights groups say, it has upheld key violations of Palestinian rights.

The call with Netanyahu came as U.S. 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 and Easter this year.

The senior administration official said the meetings in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, marked the first time the United States. has played such a role in the Middle East since 2003. The official noted that Ramadan over the past two years has been a time of violent clashes and heightened tensions in the region, saying U.S. 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 “make sure 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 that the White House was encouraged that both sides were willing to gather this year.

“We had a very forthright discussion,” the senior administration official said, adding there were “good intentions from the Israeli and Palestinian side and a firm commitment, particularly through 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 hard-line factions. Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that had been avoided by previous presidents in an effort to maintain neutrality between Israeli and Palestinian claims to the city.

Netanyahu, for his part, embraced his relationship with Trump, using the U.S. president’s image in his election campaign and making little secret of his support for Trump’s reelection.

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

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.