Jan 19, 2023 - World

Scoop: Sullivan raises Israeli judicial overhaul plan with Netanyahu

Sullivan meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd R) in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023.

White House national security adviser Sullivan meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Jan. 19. Photo: Handout/Israeli Government Press Office (GPO)/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan in a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday raised the Israeli government’s plan to overhaul the country's judicial system, U.S. officials briefed on the meeting told Axios.

Why it matters: It is the first time that a senior Biden administration official has discussed the issue directly with Netanyahu. The Biden administration is concerned the plan could harm the independence of the Israeli judicial system and other democratic institutions.

The big picture: The plan, announced less than two weeks after Netanyahu's right-wing government took office, has deepened political divisions and stoked fear among some that the heightened tensions could tear Israeli society apart.

  • The White House debated in recent weeks how much it wants to weigh in on the sensitive and politically charged Israeli domestic issue that many in the U.S. government fear could impact Israel’s democracy and, as a result, the U.S.’ relationship with Israel.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on what Sullivan said regarding the plan.

Catch up quick: The Israeli government’s plan, if implemented, will significantly limit the Supreme Court’s ability to review laws and strike them down.

  • It includes passing a law that would allow the governing coalition to override Supreme Court rulings by a simple majority of 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset.
  • It also seeks to end the Supreme Court's ability to revoke administrative decisions by the government on the grounds of "reasonability," significantly decreasing judicial oversight.

The plan envisions giving the government and the coalition in parliament absolute control over appointing judges.

  • Additionally, the plan includes changing the law so that ministers would be able to install political appointees as legal advisers in their ministries, something that is not under their authority today.

Worth noting: In his private meeting with Netanyahu, the U.S. officials said Sullivan also raised the Biden administration's concerns about the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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