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Biden and Netanyahu Engage in Vocal Dispute Over Israeli Judicial Reform

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden engaged in a war of words Wednesday over the previous controversial judicial reform plan.

Netanyahu rejected President Biden’s suggestion that the prime minister “steer clear” of a controversial plan to reform the legal system, saying the state makes its own decisions.

The exchange was a rare bout of public rift between the two close allies and signals growing friction between Israel and the United States over Netanyahu’s judicial changes, which he has shelved after mass protests.

Asked by reporters on Tuesday night what he hoped the prime minister would do with the legislation, Biden replied, “I hope he gets away with it.”

The president added that the Netanyahu government “cannot continue on this path” and urged a compromise on the plan, which unsettles Israel.

He also circumvented the proposal of US Ambassador Thomas Needs to invite Netanyahu soon to the White House, saying: “No, not in the near term.”

Netanyahu responded that Israel is a sovereign state and “makes its decisions by the will of its people and not on the basis of pressure from outside, including from best friends.”

The frosty exchange came a day after Netanyahu demanded a halt to his government’s controversial legislation to “avoid civil war” in the wake of two straight days of mass protests that drew tens of thousands of people onto Israeli streets.

“We’re hoping the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to find a real compromise. But that’s not clear yet,” Biden told reporters as he left North Carolina to return to Washington.

Israeli protest organizers called a demonstration in support of Biden outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv on Thursday, while Netanyahu’s allies doubled down on their criticism.

Speaking to Kan public broadcaster, Education Minister Yoav Kisch said that “a friend may not try to impose on the other regarding domestic issues.”

Netanyahu and his religious and ultra-nationalist allies announced the judicial reform in January, just days after forming their government, the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

The proposal plunged Israel into its worst internal crisis in decades. Former business leaders, top economists and security chiefs have all opposed the plan, saying it pushes the country toward dictatorship.

The plan would give Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, and his allies the final say in appointing the nation’s judges. It also gives Parliament, which is controlled by its allies, the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit the court’s ability to review laws.

Critics say the legislation would concentrate power in the coalition in parliament and upset the balance of checks and balances between branches of government.

Netanyahu said he was “seeking a broad consensus” in his talks with opposition leaders, which began on Tuesday.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition in the Israeli parliament, wrote on Twitter that Israel had been the closest ally of the United States for decades, but that “the most extremist government in the country’s history destroyed it in three months.”

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