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White House considers Netanyahu likely to abandon judicial overhaul to seek compromise

The Biden administration had used a mixture of precautions public statements and intensive behind-the-scenes discussions to pressure Netanyahu into finding a compromise. Inside the White House, aides have expressed some sympathy for Netanyahu’s position, given that he chairs a right-wing coalition that does not want him to relent.

President Joe Biden spoke at length with Netanyahu on March 19 in a phone conversation that has at times become contentious, a person familiar with the call said. Netanyahu’s stance was that Biden and the United States in general should not lecture him on how to run his country, the person said, requesting anonymity to speak more freely.

David Friedman, who was the US ambassador to Israel during the Trump administration, said he felt Netanyahu “doesn’t like to be lectured, period,” adding, “Let’s say he’s an expert about Israel and Israeli politics”.

“Bibi has always existed; presidents come and go,” Friedman added, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Netanyahu’s initial proposal, had it passed, would have been difficult for the Biden administration to defend. One of the provisions would have allowed a majority of the Knesset to overrule Supreme Court decisions, thereby neutralizing the judiciary.

At a time when democracies and autocracies are vying for primacy, Biden cannot afford to see a staunch American ally set aside the checks and balances that underpin democratic government.

Biden’s message to Netanyahu was that he had to “design a way forward based on compromise that could lead to this kind of consensus support,” John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters on Monday. the White House. “But he was very clear, and that really comes from a position of respect and friendship for Israel and all that Israel stands for.”

Having known each other for decades, Biden and Netanyahu are comfortable conversing with a level of candor unusual in high-level diplomacy. Dennis Ross, a former diplomat who served in the Obama administration, said, “I saw the way he treated Bibi. Biden used to say, “Listen, mate. We have a problem here. How are we going to deal with it? The subtext was: Help me help you.

Vice President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Jewish Federations of North America Annual General Meeting in New Orleans, Sunday, November 7, 2010.
Vice President Joe Biden meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New Orleans in 2010.Gérald Herbert / AP file

Still, some Israeli and US government officials believe Biden’s public comments were overly cautious and that he should have issued a more outspoken condemnation of the judicial overhaul from the start.

In a statement to The New York Times last month, Biden said, “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both based on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary . Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to make sure people buy into them so they can be supported.

The White House considered calling on Netanyahu not to speak at a virtual summit of the world’s democracies this week, a person familiar with the matter said, but never went so far as to take that step.

When asked if it was appropriate for Netanyahu to speak at the summit, Kirby simply replied that Israel was one of 121 nations invited to attend.

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