Biden calls for consensus in Israel on plans to tame judiciary

Published February 13, 2023
In this file photo taken on March 9, 2016, US Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while giving joint statements at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. — AFP/File
In this file photo taken on March 9, 2016, US Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while giving joint statements at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. — AFP/File

JERUSALEM: US President Joe Biden has called for wide agreement to be reached in Israel on sweeping changes to the judiciary which have sparked nationwide protests.

Israel’s parliament may on Monday begin the legislation process of the judicial overhaul, which would increase the government’s sway in selecting judges while weakening the judiciary’s power to strike down laws or rule against the executive.

“The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained,” Biden said.

Netan­yahu has said the changes are needed in order to restore balance between the government, the Knesset and the judiciary, which some in his coalition accuse of elitism and overreaching its powers to interfere in the political sphere.

Critics say the changes would deal a fatal blow to Israel’s democracy because they would politicise the bench and undermine judicial independence, which could make corruption easier and endanger human rights and civil liberties.

Many legal experts, economists and former security and economic officials, who include Netanyahu confidants and appointees, have come out against the government’s judicial plans.

Israel’s central bank chief has urged lawmakers to safeguard the independence of institutions and the opposition is calling on Israelis to join a general strike on Monday.

Israel has ‘crossed all red lines’

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas accused Israel on Sunday of having “crossed all red lines” in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and urged world leaders to put an end to its actions.

The international community must “protect” the Palestinian people and “put a stop to Israeli aggression... (and) unilateral actions”, the head of the Palestinian Authority told an Arab League meeting in Ca­iro.

“Mr Biden tells me he supports a two-state solution, but then does nothing at all,” Abbas added.

A two-state solution would mean the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, as well as the partition of Jerusalem, which Israel refuses as it considers the city its undivided capital.

The Arab League is itself split on relations with Israel since 2020 when the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco normalised ties with the Jewish state under the US-brokered Abraham Accords, years after Egypt and Jordan had forged relations.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2023

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