Now, in Israel, after posing his controversial plan to overhaul the independent judiciary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the country will overcome what he calls a great debate.
Protesters are still gathering with the bill set to return to parliament next month if no compromise is reached.
His plans are testing the U.S. rail relationship as well.
The former U.S. ambassador two Israel joins Walter Isaacson to discuss how it does impact their alliance.
Walter: thank you, welcome to the show.
>> Thank you.
Walter: You were in Israel, part of a delegation from the United States and you stayed an extra couple of days because you wanted to attend the demonstrations.
As somebody who has been an ambassador of the United States of Israel twice, that seemed unusual.
Why did you do it and what did you say NC see?
>> Unusual because I don't think I've been in a protester demonstration since I demonstrated for the sovereign jury 60 years ago when DASH was on trial.
But I am concerned about the way in which this effort by the Netanyahu government to promote a judicial restructuring and curb the and the parents -- the independence of the Israeli Supreme Court, concerned about the effect of Israel's democracy and the U.S. relationship, which is where it is, I really wanted to see it firsthand and also lend my voice to those protesting.
Walter: You talked about the effect it would have on the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Why will it have an effect?
>> the U.S.-Israeli relationship is referred to as a special relationship.
What makes it special is it's not only based on common interests and strategic interests in the region, but it's based on common democratic values.
That is something the Israelis have been very proud of, touting that they are the only democracy in the Middle East.
But the bipartisan support for Israel, which has long been strong, deep, broad, really depends on the fact that Americans see Israel as a fellow democracy in a dangerous part of the world.
Walter: Let me read a tweet that you came out with, soon pausing the legislator will not be enough to restore normalcy.
The revolt is turning into a revolution.
What does that mean?
Now that he's paused, can he stop this, or is this something deeper than just a judicial change?
>> If Netanyahu concedes to his opposition, he risks his coalition in his coalition control.
If he doesn't, as I was saying, the opposition knows the way back to the square and will pursue civil disobedience, widespread demonstrations, shutting the country down as they did yesterday, and so given that, I think it will be extremely difficult to work out a compromise.
Walter: You've known Prime Minister Netanyahu for decades.
You've really dealt with him for a long time.
Tell me why he's doing this?
>> This is not the person I knew.
I worked with him in the 1990's during the Clinton administration.
I worked with him again whenever he became Barack Obama and -- when I became the special envoy for Barack Obama in 2018.
And I have known Netanyahu to be a particularly skillful politician, very good at playing the complicated game of maintaining his coalition, that's why he's the longest-serving prime minister in Israelis history, but this new prime minister has forged a coalition of far right and orthodox religious parties in this has seemed to upset his bouts in his normal skill, calculating how far it can go.
He seems to have been completely caught by the opposition that this judicial restructuring generated.
Walter: You say he's created this coalition of the far right, the extreme religious parties.
Is some of the onus on the centrists that you have known for so long and others who did not work with him trying to survey centrist government?
>> I don't think it's fair to blame them, you referenced Betty Gatz, who leads a centrist party.
He was prepared to join Netanyahu, joined his previous government on the basis that they would rotate the Prime Minister's ship.
Netanyahu went first and then did everything he could, successfully, to undermine the relationship and force the government to follow part.
So he was humiliated by Netanyahu, and I think it's not unreasonable that he doesn't want to be humiliated again.
The others, it's not just the centrist parties, there are parties and factions that also refuse to join with the Netanyahu, partly because he has undermined their trust in him, and partly because he's under indictment for charges.
He's been prosecuted on charges of bribery and breach of trust.
Walter: Are those charges part of his personal calculation of why he's doing this?
I think it's hard to explain it any other way because the one piece of legislation that he has insisted on, he agreed to defer the other package of laws designed to curve the judiciary.
But the one he insisted on an clot -- and because the blowup was the one that would enable him to stand court and try to ensure that court, Supreme Court would face an appeal and would not send him to jail.
Walter: While he was running, was as part of this platform?
Did the people vote for this?
>> It wasn't part of his platform.
Basically, deterring Iran from a nuclear threshold and making peace with Saudi Arabia, expanding the Abraham Accords.
Members of his party were surprised when this suddenly became the issue that he started to push.
Walter: Other than the defense minister, we haven't had pushback from within his own party, why not?
>> it has been happening for a long time to challenge him.
He has strong control over the rank-and-file.
He's popular amongst them.
-- Walter: Does that remind you of Trump?
>> increasingly so, a smarter version of Donald Trump, but Netanyahu's agenda of trying to attack the court has a certain resonance when it comes to Trump's activities.
Walter: When you were in Israel he met with one of your successors, the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
I saw that this morning, he was making a point of saying Netanyahu will visit Washington, this is going to happen, he's invited, why with the ambassador just say that?
>> the ambassadors doing a fantastic job and really difficult circumstances.
Up until now, the White House has avoided setting it 84 Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to Washington.
Weiss is important, it's because it's to make his first visit to Washington within weeks of being sworn in and no date has been sentenced.
This is because the president wants to send a signal to Netanyahu that they took the clean things first before he comes.
>> What you -- Walter: What you are saying is that the interesting he said was not that of course he will come, was the fact that they did not set a date.
This is not something that we would call a southern invitation.
At the appropriate time in the appropriate time hasn't come on Netanyahu cleans up his act.
The president has intervened twice to get him to back off.
I suspect -- I haven't spoken to him in the last couple of days, but I suspect that there may be some kind of understanding that now that Netanyahu has heated the president's call to back off the legislation, that they will look to set a date for him to come visit.
But I think that it will depend on how things go, the negotiations that will now take place under the leadership of the president will try to bring the opposition of the government together to work out a compromise before they convene in one month.
Walter: You are writing a piece that will be published tomorrow in which you are not up to mystic that negotiations can resolve this in a month.
Why not and what then?
>> the government coalition of far right religious parties and orthodox religious parties to curve -- want to curb the judiciary to stop the court from intervening in preventing the annexation of private Palestinian land in the West Bank.
And, in order to give the religious parties exemptions -- permanent exemptions from joining the Israeli army, from being restricted.
On the others, the opposition feels its power.
It is defending Israel's democracy and trying to reclaim the country for the future that it cares about.
Annan knows the way back to the streets.
The reservist to have them serve in the high-tech community knows how to threaten to take it to capital.
Walter: This was huge what happened in Israel.
Taking to the streets, shutting down the economy.
Do you think this is part of a global trend where people are pushing back against authoritarianism?
>> that's what impressed me most was that this was a huge manifestation of secular Israelis demanding that the democracy be protected.
I was surprised and heartened by the commitment to democracy that was strongly manifested.
So I hope there will be a demonstration to all of us in democracies that are threatened, to stand up for our rights.
Walter: You say the demonstrators you are with, these huge crowd, were secular Israelis, for the most part.
Why has there been and how bad is the divide in Israel between the secular political parties that want democracy and the religious right?
>> Would happen recently as secular Israeli's are becoming concerned by the growth in numbers -- the demographic numbers which suggest that Orthodox Israelis, who's birth rate is higher than secular Israelis, will eventually become dominant.
In what concerns secular Israelis is that the Orthodox Israelis are often poor, they depend on handouts for this -- from the states for their schools, and a vast majority of them don't serve in the Army, where there is supposed to be universal conscription.
Secular Israelis feel like they are threatened with becoming a minority, but bearing the burden of paying the taxes and serving in the Army.
So that sense of inequity has been fueling this on one side.
On the others, the growing numbers and zealotry has enabled them to form a government of the right and far right, so they have a majority and they feel that they have the legitimacy to advance their agenda, which includes, as we have been discussing, curbing the independence of the Supreme Court.
One side feels increasingly threatened.
The other side feels increasingly empowered and that has made a far more difficult to reconcile different trials.
Walter: Your trip to Israel was part of a group that tries to help economic development in the Palestinian territories and with Israel's blessing.
To what extent do you think this situation we face now makes it harder to have in Israeli-Palestinian peace?
>> It's important to understand that while all of this is going on inside Israel, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been growing fairly traumatically in the last three months.
Palestinians have been killed, 16 Israelis have been killed and increasing violence.
We are heading into Ramadan has already started, crossovers about to start.
That is a time of high tensions and high frictions between Israelis and Palestinians in the holy sites in East Jerusalem where they come into contact.
There's a real concern independent of what's happening inside Israel that Israeli-Palestinian conflict could erupt again.
The Palestinian Authority is crumbling, doesn't control any of the cities.
The Palestinian youth that though remember -- but what happened there have access to weapons and a target rich environment.
So, their activity is increasing the terrorism and Israeli army is responding to that.
It kind of feels like it's pointing fingers in the wrong direction.
They are preoccupied with the internal division.
All it's trying, Netanyahu doesn't want a block so he's trying to calm things down and make concessions to the Palestinians, he's being disavowed by the far right ministers who are inciting secular vigilantes to take action.
So the combination is very disturbing.
Walter: Ambassador, thank you for joining us.