regular-article-logo Sunday, 28 May 2023

US piled pressure on Israel govt

Biden told Bibi: Tel Aviv’s democratic image at stake

David E. Sanger Washington Published 29.03.23, 05:05 AM
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu File picture

In the 48 hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly delayed his effort to overhaul the Israeli judiciary, his government was bombarded by warnings from the Biden administration that he was imperilling Israel’s reputation as the true democracy at the heart of West Asia.

In a statement on Sunday night, soon after Netanyahu fired his defence minister because he had broken with the government on the judicial overhaul, the White House noted that President Joe Biden had told Netanyahu by phone a week ago that democratic values “have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship”. Major changes to the system, Biden said, must only “be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support”.


The statement was striking because, in normal times, the standard line for a White House — whether Democratic or Republican — is that Washington does not interfere in the internal politics of its allies.

That has never truly been the case; it interferes all the time, usually behind the scenes.

But in this case, Biden and his advisers dropped all pretences, putting themselves publicly at odds with Netanyahu, even though he cast himself in conversations with administration officials as a man desperately looking for compromise. In private, administration officials said, the conversations with Netanyahu’s government were even blunter, indicating that Israel’s image as the sole democracy in West Asia was at stake.

The US ambassador to Israel, Thomas R. Nides, who has deep roots in the Democratic Party that go back to the Clinton administration, spent the weekend passing along messages from Biden and his staff.

By Sunday night, White House officials came to two conclusions.

The first was that Netanyahu had deeply miscalculated when he announced the firing of the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, who had publicly called for suspending efforts to pass the legislation that would alter how judges are appointed.

The second conclusion, they said, was that Netanyahu was looking for a way out of the crisis, and benefited from telling the Right-wing partners in his fragile coalition that he could not risk losing the support of Israel’s ally.

His message, one senior official said, was that Israel could soon face a crisis with Iran, which is creeping ever closer to a nuclear weapons capability, and that he could not afford to alienate Washington.

So when Netanyahu said on Monday in Israel that “when there is a possibility of preventing a civil war through dialogue”, he would “take a time out for dialogue”, they read it as a message to the far-Right members of his coalition that he had no other choice.

New York Times News Service

Follow us on: