Netanyahu to be invited to White House soon, US envoy says after overhaul pause

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be invited to the White House “as soon as their schedules can be coordinated,” US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said Tuesday morning, less than 12 hours after the premier announced that he was putting his government’s highly divisive judicial reform on hold. plan.

“I’m sure it will be coming quite soon,” Nides told the Israel Radio Army. “I take it after Passover, obviously no date has been set yet. There is no question that it will come together [US President Joe] Biden. They will see each other in person, I’m sure, quite soon. Undoubtedly, he will be coming to the White House as soon as their schedules can be coordinated.”

Netanyahu is said to be angry at the lack of invitation to meet with Biden for a full three months after he returned to power leading a hard-right government. A recent report suggested that the prime minister had banned his Likud party members from meeting with US government officials during trips abroad, fearing that this would signal that Netanyahu had not yet met with Biden.

Washington has repeatedly warned against the plan to rein in the judiciary and urged dialogue on broader reforms that have been agreed, amid months of mass protests and warnings that the government’s plan could undermine democratic checks and balances, eroding economic growth and national security.

These warnings intensified after Netanyahu announced he was firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday night after the latter broke with him and prompted a pause on reform legislation, sparking unprecedented overnight demonstrations and nationwide strikes the next day forced the first leader to delay the bills. until May.

The New York Times reported late Monday, citing unnamed senior administration officials, that the Biden administration had given Netanyahu regular messages that he was “undermining Israel’s reputation as the true democracy at the heart of the Middle East.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote in the Knesset Hall in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report said the White House concluded that Netanyahu was “grossly miscalculated” by putting Gallant in the spotlight, putting himself in an “impossible bind,” and that he would benefit from being able to use exploiting the deep concerns of the United States to convince its distant allies. avoid defeating the government as it had no choice but to delay the reform.

Inviting Netanyahu to meet with Biden while there were mass protests against him would be “very uncomfortable,” a senior official at the New York Times quoted him as saying.

Even after the reform break, the report said, Washington is questioning how long Netanyahu will last in power. “His reputation was due to political acumen and his ability to push for compromise,” he quoted several officials as saying, noting that the crisis has only been “put down the road” for some time now.

Officially, the White House responded on Monday by welcoming Netanyahu’s announcement “as an opportunity to create additional time and space for reconciliation. A compromise is exactly what we were asking for.”

“Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the widest possible base of support,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Earlier in the day, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the legislation Netanyahu’s coalition was trying to advance “goes against the whole idea of ​​checks and balances.”

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides speaks at an event in Jerusalem on February 19, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In his Tuesday interview with Army Radio, Nides joked that he had “a good night’s sleep last night” after Netanyahu’s move.

“We welcome the move. As Biden has said many times, we wanted to see compromise and dialogue, and I commend the prime minister for announcing that,” he said, adding that he was “hopeful” and something Washington supports any which means “quiet”.

He indicated that Washington would continue to work directly with Netanyahu, rather than his far-right allies, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Nides also praised the strength of Israel’s democracy, saying it was “unbelievable that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people have come to protest for 12 weeks, that almost no one has been injured, very few people have been arrested – this is a living democracy. . I applaud the fact that protesters on both sides came out peacefully. It’s something we can all look at with respect.”

This aerial view shows people protesting in Tel Aviv against the government’s controversial judicial reform bill, March 25, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The fate of Defense Minister Gallant was unclear on Tuesday, as he apparently had not yet received a letter starting the 48-hour period until his ouster. Calls for Netanyahu to call off the shooting are growing, but Nides was careful to stay out of the question.

The delegate said he had “great respect” for Gallant, but told him that he, Nides, was “not the prime minister” and that he cannot be the one in certain positions.

However, public broadcaster Kan reported Tuesday morning that US officials have told Israeli officials they were concerned about Gallant’s dismissal, noting that the Biden administration has a “very good working relationship” with the defense minister.

The outlet quoted an unnamed senior State Department official as saying that the US “wants to focus on the military partnership between Washington and Jerusalem, and how best to protect Israel, the US and the Middle East.

“This is the reason why we are asking the leaders of Israel to reach a compromise as soon as possible.”

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