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Israel Netanyahu upbeat on reform compromise after Biden reproach

March 29, 2023 at 4:33 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem [ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, voiced confidence on Wednesday that he would find compromise with the political opposition over his judicial overhaul after the contested reforms drew a strong reproach from US President Joe Biden, Reuters reports.

Israel “can’t continue down this road”, Biden told reporters on Tuesday in reference to unprecedented protests that have swept the country and penetrated its military, spurring Netanyahu’s Defence Chief to break ranks and call for a halt.

The conservative Israeli leader did press the pause button on Monday to allow for negotiations with opposition parties.

Addressing the US-led Summit for Democracy, he said his stated reason for the reforms – balancing the branches of Israeli government – could be reconciled with civil liberties.

The negotiators, he said, will “try to achieve a broad national consensus to achieve both goals. And I believe this is possible. We’re now engaged in exactly this conversation”.

Opposition parties spanning the political spectrum have accused Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges – of seeking to curb judicial independence. He denies any wrongdoing.

Separately, Netanyahu predicted on Wednesday that Israel would join the US Visa Waiver Programme in September after passing legislation required by Washington. The US Embassy in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.

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In another signal of business as usual, Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant – whose dissent on the pace of the judicial overhaul prompted Netanyahu to announce his dismissal on Sunday, triggering a surge in the demonstrations and foreign alarm – oversaw the launch of a new Israeli spy satellite on Wednesday.

Gallant then posted a picture of himself hosting the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, a major defence partner of Israel. Aides say Gallant never got a formal dismissal letter from Netanyahu.

Now in his sixth term, Netanyahu straddles a religious-nationalist coalition whose far-right members have stirred worry in the West for the future long-stalled peacemaking with the Palestinians and the ability to coordinate strategies on Iran.

The US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, on Tuesday held out the possibility that Netanyahu might soon be invited to the White House after acceding to the compromise talks.

But Biden, when asked by a reporter if he would be inviting Netanyahu, replied: “No, not in the near term.”

Israel’s centrist opposition leader, Yair Lapid, tweeted: “For decades Israel was the closest of US allies. The country’s most extreme government ever ruined that in three months.”

Responding to the remarks by Biden, Netanyahu noted his rapport with the President and the “unbreakable” alliance between the countries but said Israel would chart a course “by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad”.

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