APAmerican Israelis at the embassy in Tel Aviv
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 19:38
Since Benjamin Netanyahu took office again as Prime Minister of Israel, he has not yet received an invitation from the White House. He actually counted on that during the visit of US Secretary of State Blinken to Israel at the beginning of this year. The lack of an official invitation is said to be related to American concerns about Israeli reform plans.
The Israeli government is the most right-wing and conservative the country has ever had. She wants to implement legal reforms that significantly reduce the power of the Supreme Court over the justice system. At the same time, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, would gain much more power.
In Israel, tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets for weeks in a row to demonstrate against those plans. The demonstrators fear that the reforms will damage democracy.
The United States is Israel’s main ally. In addition to military support, Israel also receives a lot of political support from the Americans, for example because they veto resolutions critical of Israel in the UN Security Council.
Initially, it seemed that the US administration did not want to get involved in the discussion about the reforms because it is a domestic matter. But there are now more and more signals that the US is not happy with Netanyahu’s plans.
Last week, more than ninety Democrats warned President Biden in a letter that the legal reforms undermine the relationship between Israel and the United States. They called on him to pressure Netanyahu and his government not to damage Israel’s democracy.
And it’s not just this group of Democrats who are concerned about the reform plans. Both US Secretary of Defense Austin and Blinken of State recently emphasized the importance of Israeli democracy. And that it is important to protect pillars such as an independent judiciary.
And recently President Biden also spoke out on the issue for the first time. He told The New York Times: “Building support for fundamental change is important to get people to believe in it so you can sustain it.” In doing so, he responded to the massive demonstrations in Israel against the reform plans. He also stressed that Israeli democracy is built on strong institutions, such as an independent judiciary.
But they are not more than cautious warnings for the time being. And it is also questionable how far Netanyahu can go until the US actively opposes the plans, perhaps leading to a rift between the countries.
America correspondent Ryan Ermine:
“It is striking that the debate about unconditional support for Israel has erupted. Even a well-known opinion leader like Thomas Friedman, who does not often criticize Israel fiercely, calls on American Jews in The New York Times to “take sides”.
An important starting point in the relationship between the US and Israel is that it is not only based on shared interests, but above all on shared values. If Israel threatens to become undemocratic, an important foundation for that cooperation will disappear.
But for now, President Biden is not eager to further increase pressure on Israel in public. There are political risks to this, because Republicans and many Democrats are still firmly behind Israel. Setting conditions for military aid in order to change course for the Israeli government therefore does not seem promising in this political climate.”
Israel needs the United States and it knows it all too well. Both military and political support is of great importance to the Jewish state. Protesters against the reforms are therefore also looking expectantly at the US, hoping that Biden will call Netanyahu to order and put a stop to the reforms.
But Netanyahu also knows that the US will not actively oppose the reform plans anytime soon. Moreover, he is under pressure from his coalition partners. They are determined to push through the reforms, preferably as soon as possible, because it is uncertain how long this coalition will last.
Fear of civil war
In addition, a corruption trial against the Israeli Prime Minister is still ongoing. The legal reforms could be in his favor in that process and the prime minister wants to do everything he can to avoid a prison sentence.
Moreover, Netanyahu now seems to have his hands full with the resistance in his own country. Organizers said last weekend’s protest was the largest demonstration in Israel’s history. The tone is getting tougher on both sides and some Israelis even fear civil war.
The US’s cautious statements about Israel’s reform plans are therefore having little effect for the time being. And it seems that a lot of American pressure is needed to change that. But the question is whether the US is prepared to do so.
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