For months, PM ignored mounting US concerns; Biden decided to drive the point home

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WASHINGTON – Initial statements from Biden administration officials in the first 24 hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he would be temporarily halting efforts to reform the judiciary seemed to the news that US-Israel ties had turned a corner after months of deterioration.

In succession, White House and State Department spokesmen issued statements praising Netanyahu’s decision to open negotiations with the opposition on judicial reform. “We welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for reconciliation. [This] that’s exactly what we’ve been asking for,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday, citing statements from National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and State Department spokesman Vedant Patel.

US Ambassador Tom Nides even started talking on Tuesday about Netanyahu visiting the White House “quite soon,” and the main thing he said was that he has not yet received such an invitation.

But then came a cheaper opportunity to comment Tuesday afternoon when reporters stopped President Joe Biden aboard Air Force One at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Without a prepared statement in front of him, the president revealed how he and his administration truly feel about Netanyahu’s attempt to limit the power of the High Court of Justice – pause or no pause.

“Like many of Israel’s staunch supporters, I am deeply concerned. And I’m worried that they just get this. They cannot continue down this road,” he said. “I hope the prime minister will act in a way that will try to work out a real compromise, but that remains to be seen.”

Driving home the turmoil in the countries’ ties, Biden, asked if the premier would be receiving that invitation from the White House, made the situation clear: “Not soon.”

Israeli officials were quick to claim last week that relations with the US had not reached a breaking point after the Biden administration urgently summoned Israel’s ambassador to the State Department over the Knesset’s passage of the Repeal Law A so-called disconnect, in what was the first of its kind. dress down since 2010.

But it was almost impossible to deny the crisis on Tuesday, which probably led to Netanyahu’s decision not to wait until the morning to respond, and instead to issue a statement in English at almost 1 local time.

“Israel is a sovereign country [that] he makes his decisions according to the will of his people and not based on pressure from abroad, including the best friends,” Netanyahu said in response that probably added more fuel to the fire.

A US official speaking on condition of anonymity told The Times of Israel that some in the administration were “surprised” by Biden’s remarks, which appeared to confirm that the president had gone off message. indeed

However, once Netanyahu responded as he did – although the prime minister prefaced his statement by expressing his gratitude for Biden’s long-term commitment to Israel – any discomfort that might have been felt dissipated quickly.

Right-wing leaders in Israel can “try to smear [us] however they want, [but] it’s not helpful,” a Biden administration official tell The Forward, adding that Netanyahu and his aides “grossly miscalculated” the US position on the overhaul.

Meanwhile, the US official who spoke to The Times of Israel emphasized that the administration is “really [didn’t] I want to be where we are today.”

“We wanted to work with Bibi towards our common goals,” the official said, referring to boosting bilateral cooperation against Iran’s nuclear threat and further integrating Israel into the region. “We still want to work with him.”

“But something has to give, and the signs we were getting [Jerusalem]even after yesterday [overhaul pause] notice from the prime minister, to be in charge [us] believe that our messages are still not sinking in,” the US official said.

While he disagrees with Biden’s decision to express his frustration in the way he did on Tuesday, an Israeli diplomat – also speaking on condition of anonymity – said that Jerusalem was well aware that the restoration judiciary and the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict “were not the issues the administration wanted to deal with.”

“Their foreign policy priorities are elsewhere, but they feel drawn back towards our issues for different reasons – some of their doing and some of our doing,” the Israeli diplomat said.

Things haven’t deteriorated to the “chickenshit” level of name-calling that colored bilateral relations during the Obama administration — “and probably won’t, given who Biden is and who he surrounds himself with, ” clarified the Israeli diplomat.

But the identity appears to be growing, especially on the Israeli side.

US President Joe Biden meets with then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (right) at the Presidential Palace in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. At left are Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Second from left is US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides. (GPO)

Briefing reporters during Netanyahu’s recent visit to Rome earlier this month, a “senior Israeli official” blamed the Biden administration’s “weakness” for the Iran-Saudi Arabia normalization deal.

Netanyahu’s son Yair – who shares a roof with the prime minister and is known to have his ear – has been sharing posts on social media for the past week claiming that the State Department is stoking the anti-reform protests. banks to relieve his father. the US can re-enter the Iran nuclear deal.

The claims so alarmed US officials in Washington that the State Department issued a detailed statement refuting them as “false allegations”. Nides called them “absurd” on Tuesday.

However, the United States would rather be big with sharp rhetoric to get its messages across, rather than decisive actions that would draw back a lot from domestic and Israeli audiences.

He avoided reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem to serve the Palestinians, and refrained from returning the previous administration’s “Pompeo doctrine” that gave a nod of legitimacy to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Even when the Biden administration went beyond rhetoric, it did so very sharply.

U.S. President Barack Obama then listens to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, foreground, as he speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Nov. 9, 2015. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

He supported a symbolic joint resolution in the UN Security Council against Israeli settlement building last month, but so far has blocked a binding resolution passed by former president Barack Obama in 2016.

He asked Israeli Ambassador Mike Herzog to the State Department regarding the Disengagement Cancellation Law, but avoided characterizing the move as a subpoena, which would have carried much more diplomatic weight.

But as the US official noted, the feeling in Washington is that his concerns have not yet resonated in Jerusalem.

This sentiment was fueled by Netanyahu’s decision to give National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir control of a “national guard,” which critics warned could be used to target Arab Israelis and Palestinians, the US official said.

And so Biden chose to end the polite distraction in which his aides have engaged in the past several weeks at Netanyahu’s long-held invitation.

It makes Netanyahu more isolated. Netanyahu’s trips to Europe in recent weeks have been overshadowed by the criticism he received from the host leaders and the protests that follow him wherever he goes. In the United Kingdom last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was not over the traditional photo counter but still made a point to include his concerns about the reform in the readout from their meeting.

The United Arab Emirates continues to freeze Netanyahu out and the rest of Israel’s Arab allies have not allowed a week without issuing some form of criticism.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a joint press conference after talks in the chancellery in Berlin on March 16, 2023. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Even inside Israel, Netanyahu’s freedom of movement is limited by mass protests wherever he appears. It remains to be seen whether these will continue amid the break in negotiations. He was also forced to avoid his regular speeches at military ceremonies, apparently fearing, due to growing unrest within the army, that he is not welcome at such gatherings.

And yet, Biden decided it was necessary to drive the point home further on Tuesday, raising objections in his own voice for the first time, apparently believing that the statement he issued last month and the a call he made to Netanyahu last week.

It is not enough to suspend the radical legislative package, according to him. Biden hopes to replace it with proposals that have the broad consensus support that the current version undoubtedly lacks.

“I hope the prime minister will act … to work out a real compromise, but that remains to be seen,” Biden said. He emphasized the word “genuine” – a quality that Netanyahu’s rivals have claimed is missing from the capital’s approach to reconciliation negotiations.

From left: President Isaac Herzog, US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid attend the Maccabiah opening ceremony at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. (Screenshot)

However, Biden opened his comments by stressing that he spoke “as a strong supporter of Israel.” He rejected the notion that he was trying to interfere in the domestic Israeli issue and indicated that he was expressing a position shared by American Jew as well, not to mention Republican lawmakers, who also began raising their own concerns on Tuesday.

And he spoke as someone who has long identified as a Zionist — someone who has often said “If Israel didn’t exist, we’d have to invent one.”

But after the pandemonium that has swept through the Jewish state for the past three months, Biden’s Israel Netanyahu is unlikely.

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