US calls Israel judicial overhaul 'unfortunate', urges for broader consensus

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The White House on Monday called it “unfortunate” that the Israeli parliament ratified part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contested judicial overhaul plan and encouraged the government to reach a broad consensus with the opposition.

US President Joe Biden’s administration reiterated its long-standing concerns after Israel’s Knesset approved the first bill that limits the Supreme Court’s powers, despite months of street protests and appeals from the US and other countries to hold off on such a move.

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“As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority,” she added.

Opposition members of parliament boycotted the vote backed by lawmakers of Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition.

Hours after the vote, Netanyahu said in a televised address that the courts will remain independent and he hopes to reach an agreement with the opposition on the judicial changes by the end of November.

Biden, who has had frosty relations with Netanyahu compared with former President Donald Trump, finally invited the prime minister last week for an official US visit later this year. But US officials have yet to set a date or concur with Israeli statements that they would meet at the White House as soon as September.

Biden had delayed extending the invitation out of concern over what aides said were Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan and Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

The US president has said Netanyahu must maintain Israel’s independent judiciary as crucial to democracy, but there have been no signs Biden’s criticism has affected other key areas such as military and intelligence cooperation between the two nations.

“We have a long-standing friendship with the government of Israel that really transcends any one issue,” a US State Department spokesperson told reporters when asked whether there could be negative repercussions in US-Israeli ties.

Jean-Pierre said in a statement: “The United States will continue to support the efforts of President (Isaac) Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.”

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