ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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PM's trip to Paris'It'll be difficult for Saudis to accept agreement with you'

Macron warns Netanyahu over judicial overhaul, settlements

French president tells visiting PM that Jerusalem risks moving away from ‘common conception of democracy’; Netanyahu says he must give coalition something on settlements

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on February 2, 2023. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on February 2, 2023. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday night that if there are not changes to his government’s far-reaching plans to overhaul the judicial system, “Paris should conclude that Israel has emerged from a common conception of democracy,” an official with knowledge of the conversation confirmed.

Macron’s remarks, which were not included in the French readout of the meeting at the Elysee Palace, were first reported by Le Monde. An official updated on the details of meeting confirmed the report to The Times of Israel.

At the meeting, Macron “expressed bluntly” that the proposed judicial shakeup “threatens to break the power of the Supreme Court, the only institutional counter-power in the government.”

The French president also said the proposal “opens a crisis unprecedented since the birth of the state in 1948.”

According to a different official with knowledge of the proceedings, Netanyahu responded that the Supreme Court was becoming too intrusive and weakening economic development.

“Israel has gone from a state of law to a state of lawyers,” he said, adding that he wants to restore the balance between branches that exists in other democracies.

Netanyahu also explained that it would take a Knesset “supermajority” to overturn rulings, according to the official, but did not explain further. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the content of a closed meeting.

Israelis protest against the governmen’ts proposed judicial overhaul, Tel Aviv, January 28, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The sit-down, the first between the two leaders since Netanyahu returned to power in late December, had all the trappings of a warm encounter, despite the harsh warning. After Netanyahu arrived, he and Macron embraced on the palace steps before waving to the cameras and heading for a two-hour-long dinner meeting with their advisers.

Netanyahu had five aides in the meeting, and Macron had eight.

Disagreement over Iranian red line

According to the Elysee, Macron blasted Iran’s “headlong rush” to develop its nuclear program. Netanyahu meanwhile urged France to back enhanced sanctions against Iran and to increase deterrence against the Islamic Republic and its proxies during talks.

There was some disagreement between the two over what the West’s red line should be. Netanyahu urged a red line at 90% enrichment, while Macron said it should be weaponization of its nuclear program.

Both leaders agreed to work together to deter Iran, but did not speak about specific operations.

“France and Israel are drawing much closer in the way they see the Iran threat,” Netanyahu told Israeli journalists in a Friday briefing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) bids farewell to French President Emmanuel Macron after their meeting in Paris, February 3, 2023 (Courtesy)

“Macron expressed his readiness to weigh sanctions on the IRGC,” he continued, referring to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and stressing that they spoke about “concrete matters.”

“The worry is shared,” said Netanyahu, adding that he found much more understanding and willingness to act in Europe and the US than in the past.

Military ‘things’ to Ukraine

On Ukraine, Netanyahu expressed a willingness to send “military things” to Kyiv, according to an official with knowledge of the conversation. At the same time, he underscored that he could not go too far without provoking Russia.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the conversation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference in Kyiv on January 19, 2023. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

In the briefing with journalists, Netanyahu would say only that “I explained our policies. He knows the issue well.”

Netanyahu did not speak about Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s upcoming trip to Kyiv.

He told Macron that “it is too early to think about mediation,” He explained that he would not push his role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine until Russia, Ukraine and the US asked him to do.

No annexation

Not surprisingly, the two discussed tensions between Israel and the Palestinians at length.

Netanyahu pledged to the French president that there “will be no annexation,” according to the official.

The prime minister said he must give something to his coalition in terms of settlements, but that it would be “much less” than coalition partners Itamar Ben Gvir and Beztalel Smotrich desire.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (L) at an election campaign event in Sderot, October 26, 2022 (Flash90)

Macron also pressed Netanyahu on rising violence between Israel and the Palestinians, urging Israel to avoid “any measures that could fuel the spiral of violence,” the palace said.

The French president also delivered a warning on Netanyahu’s attempts to widen the Abraham Accords. “If you continue what you are doing in Palestine, it will be difficult for Saudi Arabia to accept an agreement with you,” Macron said.

Macron called Netanyahu on Monday to express condolences over a deadly terror attack that killed seven Israelis and injured three in Jerusalem on Friday. The two decided on the visit during the conversation.

They last met in Jerusalem in January 2020.

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