Biden calls Israel’s Netanyahu ‘concern’ with justice plan

WILMINGTON, Delaware (AP) — President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to express “concern” about the planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system, which has sparked widespread protests across Israel, and to encourage compromise .

The White House said Biden reiterated U.S. concerns about the measure to unblock the judiciary from the country’s political system in a call that a senior administration official described as open and constructive. There was no immediate indication that Netanyahu shied away from action after he rejected a flagship compromise offered by the country’s president last week.

Netanyahu said Sunday the law changes would be carried out responsibly while protecting the fundamental rights of all Israelis. His government – the country’s most right-wing ever – says the overhaul is intended to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power and prevented lawmakers from carrying out the will of voters.

Critics say it will upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and propel the country toward authoritarianism. Opponents of the measure have staged disruptive protests, even implicating the country’s military, after more than 700 elite Air Force, special forces and Mossad officers said they would stop volunteering for duty.

The talk followed a Sunday meeting in Egypt between Israeli and Palestinian officials, where they pledged to take steps to ease tensions ahead of a sensitive holiday season. The Biden government hailed the outcome of the summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the sides issued a joint communiqué reaffirming their commitment to de-escalate and prevent further violence.

The Israeli and Palestinian delegations met for the second time in less than a month, led by regional allies Egypt and Jordan and the United States, to end a years-long outbreak of violence. More than 200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners were killed in Palestinian attacks during this period.

This included pledges to stop unilateral actions, it said. Israel vowed to halt discussion of building new settlements for four months and plans to legalize unauthorized settlement outposts for six months.

“The two sides agreed to establish a mechanism to contain and counteract violence, incitement and riotous conditions and actions,” the communiqué said.

The sides would report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, she added. ___ Madhani reported from Washington.

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