Updated Jul 17, 2023 - World

Biden urges Bibi to uphold democratic values as judicial overhaul moves forward

Biden and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem in March 2016. Photo: Debbie Hill/AFP via Getty Images

Biden and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem in March 2016. Photo: Debbie Hill/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden in a call on Monday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to uphold the democratic values that are the "cornerstone" of the U.S.-Israel relationship, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

Why it matters: Relations between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government have been strained, particularly over the Israeli government's judicial overhaul plan.

  • Biden said on CNN earlier this month that the current Israeli government is the most extreme he has seen since he started working with Israeli prime ministers 50 years ago.
  • Despite U.S. pressure, Netanyahu recently resumed the judicial overhaul legislation unilaterally after suspending it in March to allow for negotiations with the opposition. Those talks have since collapsed.
  • A bill that would significantly diminish the Supreme Court's ability to review government decisions and appointments could become law as early as next week.
  • Netanyahu's government has faced growing protests over the plan, including from within the military establishment, with hundreds of IDF reserve pilots and other reservists from intelligence, cyber and special forces units announcing in recent days they will suspend their reserve service and not report to duty if called due to their opposition to the judicial overhaul.

What they're saying: During the call, Biden stressed that there needs to be the broadest compromise and consensus possible on the judicial overhaul plan, Kirby said.

  • Netanyahu said that after the bill passes, he will try to use the summer recess to reach a broad consensus on the rest of the judicial plan, according to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, which also called the call between the two leaders "long and warm."

Biden and Netanyahu also agreed to remain in close contact and meet in the U.S. later this year to discuss issues of mutual concern, a White House official said.

  • “There will be a meeting between Biden and Netanyahu here in the U.S. sometime this fall," Kirby said. "This doesn’t mean we have less concerns about the judicial reform or about the extremists in the Israeli government. We remain concerned," Kirby said.
  • Between the lines: The vagueness about the future meeting between the two leaders in the U.S. fueled speculation that it may not take place at the White House, but at another forum such as the UN General Assembly in September.

The big picture: During the call, Biden also raised with Netanyahu U.S. concerns about settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and called Israel to avoid taking unilateral steps, according to Kirby.

  • Kirby said Biden stressed to Netanyahu the need to take measures to maintain the viability of a two-state solution and improve the security situation in the West Bank.
  • Biden "welcomed Israel’s willingness to consider new steps to support Palestinian livelihoods, and recognized promising steps by the Palestinian Authority to reassert security control in Jenin and other areas of the West Bank," Kirby told reporters.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said Biden and Netanyahu also spoke about countering Iranian threats in the region, broadening the normalization process between Israel and the Arab world, and the efforts to de-escalate the situation in the West Bank.

What to watch: Monday's call took place a day before Israeli President Isaac Herzog will meet Biden at the White House. This will be Herzog’s second visit to the White House in the last year.

  • Herzog is also scheduled to give a speech in front of a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

Editor's note: This story and headline have been updated with details from the call.

Go deeper