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Israeli PM, Biden Exchange Frosty Words03/29 06:04


   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday 
rebuffed President Joe Biden's suggestion that the premier "walks away" from a 
contentious plan to overhaul the legal system, saying the country makes its own 

   The exchange was a rare bout of public disagreement between the two close 
allies and signals building friction between Israel and the U.S. over 
Netanyahu's judicial changes, which he postponed after massive protests.

   Asked by reporters late Tuesday what he hopes the premier does with the 
legislation, Biden replied, "I hope he walks away from it." The president added 
that Netanyahu's government "cannot continue down this road" and urged 
compromise on the plan roiling Israel. The president also stepped around U.S. 
Ambassador Thomas Nides' suggestion that Netanyahu would soon be invited to the 
White House, saying, "No, not in the near term."

   Netanyahu replied that Israel is sovereign and "makes its decisions by the 
will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the 
best of friends."

   The frosty exchange came a day after Netanyahu called for a halt to his 
government's contentious legislation "to avoid civil war" in the wake of two 
consecutive days of mass protests that drew tens of thousands of people to 
Israel's streets.

   "Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out 
some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen," Biden said to reporters 
as he left North Carolina to return to Washington.

   Israeli protest organizers called for a demonstration in support of Biden 
outside the U.S. embassy building in Tel Aviv on Thursday, while Netanyahu's 
allies doubled down on their criticism.

   Itamar Ben-Gvir, a close Netanyahu ally and minister in charge of police, 
told Israel's Army Radio that Israel "is not another star in the American flag."

   "I expect the U.S. president to understand this point," he said.

   Speaking to Kan public radio, Education Minister Yoav Kisch said that "a 
friend may not try to impose on the other regarding internal issues."

   Nimrod Goren, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, noted that the 
U.S.-Israel relationship has had previous points of crisis -- over, for 
example, the now-defunct agreement to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities. In 
contrast, he said, now the White House appeared to be "questioning Netanyahu's 
competence as prime minister, and whether he's reliable or responsible."

   Netanyahu and his religious and ultranationalist allies announced the 
judicial overhaul in January just days after forming their government, the most 
right-wing in Israel's history.

   The proposal has plunged Israel into its worst domestic crisis in decades. 
Business leaders, top economists and former security chiefs have all come out 
against the plan, saying it is pushing 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 would also give 
parliament, which is controlled by his allies, authority to overturn Supreme 
Court decisions and limit the court's ability to review laws.

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

   Netanyahu said he was "striving to achieve via a broad consensus" in talks 
with opposition leaders that began Tuesday.

   Yair Lapid, the opposition leader in Israel's parliament, wrote on Twitter 
that Israel was the U.S.'s closest allies for decades but "the most radical 
government in the country's history ruined that in three months."

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