Benjamin Netanyahu tells Joe Biden to stay out of Israeli politics

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister - Abir Sultan/Pool EPA
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister - Abir Sultan/Pool EPA

Israel’s prime minister told Joe Biden to keep out of internal politics as he bluntly rejected the US president’s warning that he could not “continue down this road” with his hugely controversial legal overhaul.

In a late night statement which hinted at a bitter rift between the two leaders, Benjamin Netanyahu insisted US-Israel relations were “unbreakable” but vowed he would not bow to pressure from foreign allies.

“The alliance between Israel and the United States is unbreakable and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us,” said the Israeli leader.

But he added: “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”

It came shortly after Mr Biden issued a stinging rebuke of Mr Netanyahu’s plans for his legal reform package, which is deeply unpopular in Israel and has led to unprecedented mass protests.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Biden said: “Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned. And I’m concerned that they get this straight...they cannot continue down this road. And I’ve sort of made that clear.”

He added that “hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen,” and said there were no current plans to invite Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, to the White House.

Earlier this week, the Israeli prime minister announced a brief pause on the legal reforms amid unprecedented mass strikes and protests against them on Sunday night and Monday.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Israeli cities and the country ground to a halt as flights were suspended, shops were closed down and civil servants went on strike.

Critics of the legal overhaul say it will transform Israel into a dictatorship by handing the government immense powers over the supreme court and appointment of judges.

Some of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition allies have also said they want to reform the legal system so that his ongoing trial on fraud and corruption charges can be abandoned. The Israeli premier strongly denies the criminal charges.

Leaders of the protest movement against the reforms have vowed to continue demonstrations until the package has been abandoned altogether.

Work is also underway, led by Israel’s president, on trying to find consensus among the main parties for a compromise on the legislation.