US envoy predicts Netanyahu won’t advance entire overhaul due to ‘dramatic’ reaction

Tom Nides says judicial reform was not PM’s main objective when he returned to power; says Biden directed his senior aides to try and secure a Saudi normalization deal

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Opponents of the government's judicial overhaul plans protest outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin's home in Modiin, June 27, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)
Opponents of the government's judicial overhaul plans protest outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin's home in Modiin, June 27, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

US Ambassador Tom Nides said Tuesday that he does not believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will unilaterally advance the entirety of its legislative package to overhaul the judiciary.

“I do not believe we’re going to wake up and they’re going to do all of this legislation unilaterally… My hope is that they will not do everything unilaterally because I think the reaction here would be quite dramatic,” Nides said during a virtual event organized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, referencing the magnitude of anti-overhaul protests of recent months.

Netanyahu’s coalition began unilaterally advancing a relatively small part of the overhaul package this week in legislation to restrict judicial review, but some critics fear that the government is merely seeking to break up its advancement of the plan, rather than all of it at once, recognizing that the blowback from the latter strategy would be much more fierce.

Nides went on to maintain that the overhaul “was never [Netanyahu’s] major objective [when he became] prime minister. His coalition partners have a different objective,” but the premier is more interested in combating Iran and securing a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Commenting on the protest movement against the overhaul, Nides said it demonstrates that “democracy is alive and well in Israel,” and claimed that no one has been arrested and that there’s been no property damage.

Just hours earlier though, six protesters were arrested for burning tires outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s Modiin home. Others have been arrested for blocking roads and other forms of public disturbances throughout the ongoing 26-week protest.

United States Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides speaks at the Herzliya Conference on May 22, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

US President Joe Biden’s administration has warned Israel against advancing the controversial plan unveiled in early January, instead urging Jerusalem to only adopt judicial reforms that have widespread support.

Biden himself said in late March that Netanyahu would not be getting an invite to the White House in the “near term,” amid Washington’s displeasure with the radical nature of the proposals initially put forward by Levin.

Nides was asked about the lack of a White House invitation and insisted that one would come eventually, while avoiding getting into specifics and pointing out that Netanyahu has already been in the Oval Office more than just about every other foreign leader.

Asked about the administration’s efforts to broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Nides said Biden has directed his most senior advisers to try and “to see if there is an opportunity” to reach a deal and has “been willing to spend some political capital” in the process.

Nides acknowledged that it was a complicated task but said it was worth trying, as it would benefit all countries involved and would amount to Israel making peace with “most of the Muslim world.”

The ambassador went on to take pride in a series of measures he helped advance to improve Palestinian livelihood — expanding the operating hours of at the Allenby Crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, expanding 4G cellular access for Palestinians, boosting funding for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, and expanding fuel and electricity access in the West Bank and Gaza. Most of those initiatives have yet to be completed, but Nides has been working to ensure that they get across the finish line in the coming months.

The envoy insisted that he and the administration still support a two-state solution but argued that conditions are not ripe for one to come to fruition and that steps taken to improve Palestinian livelihood should be taken in the meantime.

Nides is set to step down from his post on July 12, and current deputy ambassador Stephanie Hallett will serve as the interim head of mission.

While the White House has put together an initial list of potential nominees to replace Nides — whose tenure will only have been 19 months long — an announcement on a nominee for his replacement is not expected in the near future, according to a US official familiar with the matter.

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