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Friday, December 8, 2023

Biden warns Netanyahu about Israel’s democracy

In a Wednesday meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, President Joe Biden raised concerns about safeguarding the “checks and balances” in democracy, urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek compromise on a contentious judicial overhaul plan that has sparked protests in Israel and raised concerns in Washington.

The two leaders had a one-on-one chat, marking their first meeting since Netanyahu assumed office as the head of a far-right government late last year. Netanyahu attempted to downplay concerns about his proposed judicial overhaul, emphasizing Israel’s commitment to democracy.

Biden, while highlighting the unwavering friendship between the U.S. and Israel, acknowledged tensions with Netanyahu’s government and its policies. He emphasized discussing vital issues, including democratic values, checks and balances, a two-state solution with Palestinians, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

During the meeting, Biden pressed Netanyahu to find a compromise on his judicial reforms, though the Israeli leader’s response was not characterized. The location of the meeting, held in a New York hotel room rather than the Oval Office, signaled potential U.S. displeasure with Netanyahu’s government.

Biden expressed hope for a future Oval Office meeting and extended a formal White House invitation, aiming for a gathering in November or December.

Despite the cordiality, the Manhattan setting and Biden’s prior concerns about Netanyahu’s judicial changes underscored strains in the alliance. Biden’s administration has consistently expressed reservations about the overhaul plan, fearing it weakens the independent judiciary and tilts Israel toward authoritarianism.

Netanyahu’s government’s handling of the Palestinian issue has also strained U.S.-Israel relations. The coalition, dominated by far-right ultranationalists, has expanded Israeli settlement construction on contested lands claimed by the Palestinians and opposes a two-state solution, leading to increased tensions and violence in the West Bank.

The White House summary of the meeting highlighted the need to address the security and economic situation in the West Bank and the shared commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

This meeting occurred amid cooling ties between Israel and the Democratic Party. A poll showed that while Americans generally view Israel as a partner or ally, doubts exist about Netanyahu’s government aligning with American values.

Netanyahu sought discussions on U.S. efforts to establish full diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, particularly regarding the shipping and rail corridor connecting Israel with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan announced at the G20 summit.

The White House is exploring such a deal, but challenges remain, including Saudi demands for nuclear cooperation and defense guarantees from the U.S., as well as expectations for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia insists that a Palestinian state is the only solution to the conflict, while some ministers in Netanyahu’s government have ruled out concessions.

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