WILMINGTON, Del. — President Joe Biden spoke Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “express concern” over his government’s planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system that has sparked widespread protests across Israel and to encourage compromise.
The White House said Biden reiterated U.S. concerns about the measure to roll back the judiciary’s insulation from the country’s political system, in a call a senior administration official described as candid and constructive. There was no immediate indication that Netanyahu was shying away from the action, after rejecting a compromise last week offered by the country’s figurehead president.
Netanyahu said Sunday the legal changes would be carried out responsibly while protecting the basic rights of all Israelis. His government – the country’s most right-wing ever – says the overhaul is meant to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power and prevented lawmakers from carrying out the voting public’s will.
Critics say it will upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and slide the country toward authoritarianism. Opponents of the measure have carried out disruptive protests, and has even embroiled the country’s military, after more than 700 elite officers from the Air Force, special forces, and Mossad said they would stop volunteering for duty.
The conversation followed a Sunday meeting in Egypt between Israeli and the Palestinian officials in which they pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of a sensitive holiday season. The Biden administration praised the outcome of the summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where a joint communique said the sides had reaffirmed a commitment to de-escalate and prevent further violence.
The Israeli and Palestinian delegations met for the second time in less than a month, shepherded by regional allies Egypt and Jordan, as well as the United States, to end a yearlong spasm of violence. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks during that time.
These include pledges to stop unilateral actions, it said. Israel pledged to stop discussion of new settlement construction for four months, and to stop plans to legalize unauthorized settlement outposts for six months.
“The two sides agreed to establish a mechanism to curb and counter violence, incitement and inflammatory states and actions,” the communique said.
The sides would report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, it added. ___ Madhani reported from Washington.
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