With Judicial Overhaul Paused, U.S. Offers Olive Branch to Netanyahu

In a sign of easing tensions in Israel after the suspension of a contentious judicial overhaul, the United States ambassador to Israel said on Tuesday that President Biden would host the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington in the coming months.

The announcement of such a meeting, long coveted by Mr. Netanyahu, came after other shifts in tone overnight from the Biden administration, as Washington signaled its support for Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to delay the divisive judicial plan.

But the news did not suggest a complete reset after weeks of fraught relations: The ambassador, Thomas R. Nides, said that no date had been fixed for the invitation, leaving open the possibility that the meeting could be canceled if Mr. Netanyahu pushed ahead with the plan after a delay.

The move was nevertheless one of several signs on Tuesday that emotions were calming across Israel after concerns over the judicial overhaul had set off civil unrest on a scale rarely seen in the country and had exacerbated tensions with the Biden administration.

After Mr. Netanyahu’s reversal, the country’s leading union called off a general strike, hospitals resumed full services after reducing them in protest on Monday, and the main airport began to allow outbound flights again after pausing them a day earlier.

But suspicion and disappointment on both sides remained. Protesters feared that the government would resume the overhaul after only a superficial delay, and some demonstrations were still scheduled for Tuesday. And among the government’s supporters, there were complaints that their views and goals had been crushed despite right-wing parties’ winning a majority in an election last November.

The comments from Mr. Nides came the morning after Mr. Netanyahu made a last-minute decision to delay the overhaul. Opponents to the government plan had begun a general strike that shut down large parts of the Israeli economy, shuttering universities and schools, stopping outgoing flights, and pausing nonurgent medical services.

The Biden administration had avoided extending an invitation to Mr. Netanyahu in recent weeks as officials in Washington grew increasingly concerned about the pace of the judicial overhaul, its effect on Israeli social cohesion and its consequences for Israeli democracy — as well as about the Netanyahu government’s policies in the occupied West Bank.

“There’s no question that the prime minister will come and see President Biden,” Mr. Nides said in an interview on Tuesday morning on Israeli radio.

“He obviously will be coming,” Mr. Nides said, adding, “I assume after Passover.” The Jewish festival of Passover ends on April 13.

Reached by phone, Mr. Nides said that no fixed date had been set for the visit. The Israeli prime minister’s office did not issue a response.

Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to delay the judicial overhaul, days before its enactment, led to the postponement of several further protests this week. Opponents of the overhaul still fear he could reinstate it later in the year and say they will not hesitate to organize further demonstrations if he reverses course again.

Opposition lawmakers accused the government of playing a double game by delaying the legislation while also taking procedural measures that would make it swifter to vote on the package in Parliament in the future. The coalition said that was simply a technical move.

More generally among the opposition, there was a sense of relief.

“This morning, we are allowed to rejoice a little,” Nadav Eyal, a columnist for Yedioth Ahronoth, a major centrist broadsheet, wrote on Tuesday morning. “Israeli democracy may die one day,” he added. “But it will not happen this week, nor this month, nor this spring.”

Nonetheless, many in the opposition remain worried that the overhaul has been delayed but not scrapped entirely. There were also fears about Mr. Netanyahu’s promise to Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right minister for national security, that he would consider creating a national guard under Mr. Ben-Gvir’s control.

Critics warned that if Mr. Netanyahu followed through on that proposal, made after Mr. Ben-Gvir agreed to remain in the government despite the delay to the overhaul, it would effectively place a paramilitary body under the control of a man convicted of racist incitement and support for a terrorist group.

In a statement, Mr. Ben-Gvir said that the body — which has yet to be created — would prevent rioting and “strengthen security and governance in the country.”

There was also uncertainty about the future of Yoav Gallant, the defense minister fired by Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday night after Mr. Gallant called for a halt to the overhaul.

Mr. Gallant’s dismissal has not formally taken effect, and Israeli commentators speculated that Mr. Netanyahu may yet allow him to keep his job.

Among government supporters, there were feelings of uncertainty, disappointment and resentment at Mr. Netanyahu’s inability to push through the legislation, even though right-wing parties had won a majority in Parliament in the general election in November.

“At school they told me that Israel is a democracy,” Evyatar Cohen, a commentator for Srugim, a right-wing news outlet, wrote. “They said that as soon as I reach the age of 18 I can go to the polls and influence the future of the country, its character and goals.”

Government supporters organized small protests overnight, with some attacking journalists and an Arab taxi driver, and chanting against Arabs. Some formed a roadblock in northern Israel, stopping drivers from an area associated with the centrist opposition.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.