US President Joe Biden has openly criticised Israel’s controversial judicial reforms and told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “walk away” from them.
Speaking to reporters in the US, before boarding Air Force One, he addressed the recent crisis on the streets of Israel over the move that would give the government greater control over Supreme Court appointments.
“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned. And I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road. And I’ve sort of made that clear,” he said.
“Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen.”
Asked if Mr Netanyahu would be visiting The White House soon, Mr Biden replied sharply: “No. Not in the near term.”
The US president and Israeli prime minister have spoken privately over the phone to discuss the crisis, but this was the first time Mr Biden was openly critical of the Israeli leader.
Responding to the stinging remarks by a close ally, Mr Netanyahu pushed back, saying he would not be pressured by foreign governments.
He said Israel is sovereign and “makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends”.
“I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his long-standing commitment to Israel,” said Mr Netanyahu.
“The alliance between Israel and the United States is unbreakable and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us.”
Despite the brave face, Mr Biden’s remarks will hurt Mr Netanyahu.
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It’s traditional for Israeli prime ministers to receive an invitation to The White House early into their term of office, and Israeli leaders see it as a coming-of-age moment.
Three months into his latest stint as prime minister, Mr Netanyahu is yet to receive an invitation and is unlikely to in the near future.
The White House’s rebuke is in contrast to the British government, which remained largely silent as the demonstrations brought Israel to a standstill on Monday.
Other western nations, notably Germany, have spoken out against the proposed reforms.
Faced with few alternatives, Netanyahu called a brief halt to the reforms on Monday evening.
It has opened a window for discussions between the government and opposition parties and already the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, has begun convening the various sides in an attempt to find a compromise.
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The protest movement, which has grown dramatically over the past three months, is determined to keep pressure on the government and remains deeply suspicious of Mr Netanyahu’s intentions.
It remains to be seen whether pressure from The White House will force Mr Netanyahu to either scrap or water down the reforms, but the Israeli leader has remained defiant, even as senior politicians warned it could lead to civil war in the country.