Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to receive a call from the White House as he is reinstated as Israel’s prime minister. He actually believed it when US Secretary of State Blinken visited Israel earlier this year. The lack of an official invitation is said to be related to US concerns about Israeli reform plans.
The Israeli government is a very right-wing and conservative country. He wants to implement legal reforms that will significantly reduce the Supreme Court’s power over the justice system. At the same time, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, would gain more power.
In Israel, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the plans for weeks. Protesters fear the reforms will damage democracy.
America is Israel’s main ally. In addition to military support, Israel also receives a lot of political support from the Americans, for example the UN. Because they veto resolutions critical of Israel in the Security Council.
Initially, it appeared that the US administration did not want to engage in the debate on the reforms as it was a domestic matter. But the signals are now overwhelming that the US is unhappy with Netanyahu’s plans.
Last week, more than ninety Democrats wrote a letter to President Biden, warning that the legal reforms would undermine relations between Israel and the United States. They called on him to put pressure on Netanyahu and his government not to damage Israel’s democracy.
An independent judiciary
These Democrats aren’t the only ones worried about the reform plans. Both US Secretary of Defense Austin and Blinken recently emphasized the importance of Israeli democracy. And it is important to protect pillars like an independent judiciary.
Recently President Biden also spoke for the first time on this issue. He told The New York Times: “It’s important to build support for fundamental change and get people to believe in it so you can sustain it.” With this, he responded to the massive demonstrations in Israel against the reform plans. He also emphasized that Israeli democracy is built on strong institutions such as an independent judiciary.
But those are not cautionary warnings for now. It is also questionable how far Netanyahu can go until the US actively opposes these plans, possibly leading to a split between the countries.
Israel needs America and knows it well. Military and political support was very important to the Jewish state. Opponents of the reforms therefore look to the United States with anticipation, hoping that Biden will order Netanyahu and end the reforms.
But Netanyahu also knows that the U.S. will not actively oppose reform plans anytime soon. Also, he is under pressure from his allies. They are committed to making reforms through reforms, preferably as soon as possible, as it is uncertain how long this alliance will last.
Fear of civil war
Also, the corruption case against the Prime Minister of Israel is still ongoing. Legal reforms could work in his favor in that process, and the prime minister wants to do everything he can to avoid jail time.
Moreover, Netanyahu now seems to have his hands full with opposition in his own country. Organizers said last weekend’s protest was the largest in Israel’s history. The tone on both sides is hardening and some Israelis even fear civil war.
American cautionary statements about Israel’s reform plans have had little effect for the time being. It looks like it will take a lot of American pressure to change that. But the question is whether America is ready for it.
“Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator.”