US President Joe Biden spoke on 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 Mr Biden reiterated US 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 Mr Netanyahu was shying away from the action, after rejecting a compromise last week offered by the country’s figurehead president.
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the leaders’ private call, said that Mr Biden spoke to Mr Netanyahu “as a friend of Israel in the hopes that there can be a compromise formula found”.
The White House in statement added that Mr Biden “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support”.
“The President offered support for efforts under rway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles,” the statement said.
Mr Netanyahu said on 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 legislators 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 Palestinian officials in which they pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of a sensitive holiday season.
Administration officials praised the outcome of the summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. A joint communique said the sides had reaffirmed a commitment to de-escalate and prevent further violence.
Mr Biden in the call “reinforced the need for all sides to take urgent, collaborative steps to enhance security coordination, condemn all acts of terrorism, and maintain the viability of a two-state solution,” according to the White House.
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.
“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.