WASHINGTON – United States President Joe Biden said he had strong concerns about Israel’s democracy and expressed hope that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would reach a compromise with his opponents over a planned judicial overhaul that has sparked widespread protests in the country.
“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned,” Mr Biden told reporters on Tuesday when asked if he was worried about the health of the country’s democracy. “I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road.”
Mr Netanyahu delayed a controversial plan that would weaken Israel’s judiciary after mass protests and a strike that paralysed the country’s economy and is sitting down with opposition leaders for talks. The plan would have undercut the authority of the country’s Supreme Court, an important check on Israeli politicians.
The delay gives Mr Netanyahu’s government and opposition negotiators until the end of July to come up with a compromise.
“Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he’s going to try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen,” Mr Biden said as he boarded Air Force One in North Carolina after an event.
Mr Netanyahu retorted to this strong criticism from Israel’s top ally with a statement saying that his 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”.
“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 added.
Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu’s relationship has cooled in recent years over disputes involving how to respond to Iran’s nuclear program and over Israel’s expansion of settlements.
Asked if there were plans to invite Mr Netanyahu to the White House, Mr Biden said “No. Not in the near term.”
He also said he had not spoken to the Israeli leader. “I did not. I delivered a message to our ambassador,” Mr Biden said. BLOOMBERG