Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that he saw no point in returning to talks with the opposition over his coalition's judicial overhaul legislation despite continued public protests and international criticism including from U.S. President Joe Biden. Netanyahu and Herzog ahead of the president's trip to the U.S. that will include a visit to the White House to meet Biden, next week.
Herzog asked Netanyahu to agree to a resumption of the talks that were suspended by the opposition last month after the coalition failed to elect its representative to the panel for the selection of judges. Netanyahu has since ordered legislation to be advanced. The prime minister told Herzog he would consider "softening" the wording of the bill.
Protesters took to the streets again on Thursday including thousands who demonstrated outside the U.S. consulate in Tel Aviv calling for the Biden administration to increase efforts to stop what they called Netanyahu's assault on the judiciary and on Israeli democracy. Outgoing U.S. ambassador Tom Nides said Israel was going off the rails, amid Netanyahu's legislation and Biden himself described the coalition as the most extreme in memory.
"The two men discussed matters on the national agenda, primarily the risk of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons," the President's Residence said in a statement. Sources close to Netanyahu said the prime minister said Israel will oppose a return by the U.S. to the 2015 Iran deal and will take any action necessary to prevent the Islamic Republic from possessing a bomb. They also said Israel would not agree to the U.S. request that there be "no surprises," regarding any Israeli action.
Netanyahu had previously criticized former prime minister Yair Lapid and his predecessor Naftali Bennet for agreeing to inform the U.S. in advance if Israel was planning actions against Iran and claimed it would limit its freedom of operation.
In their meeting, the prime minister and the president discussed the government's legislative push to overhaul the judicial system as well as the "Palestinian issue." In a joint statement, they said Netanyahu briefed Herzog on messages he should relay to Biden in their meeting as well as messages to Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The White House issued a statement earlier in the day, ahead of Herzog's visit.
"President Biden looks forward to welcoming Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the White House on July 18. As Israel celebrates its 75th anniversary, the visit will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship. President Biden will reaffirm the ironclad commitment of the United States to Israel’s security," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
"The two leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen Israel’s regional integration and to create a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East. President Biden will stress the importance of our shared democratic values, and discuss ways to advance equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and security for Palestinians and Israelis."
Jean-Pierre said the leaders will also discuss Russia’s deepening military relationship with Iran, and Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region. Herzog will also address a joint session of Congress during his visit. Netanyahu has yet to receive an invitation to the White House but will be in New York in September, to address the UN security council although no meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the UNGA has been announced.