Netanyahu basks in Congress invitation, but may shake U.S. ties

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem January 4, 2015.

Netanyahu basks in Congress invitation, but may shake U.S. ties | Reuters

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem January 4, 2015.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem January 4, 2015. | Credit: Reuters/Oded Balilty/Pool

>by: Luke Baker | 01/23/2015 19:08 CET | RePost: 01/25/2015 4:45:30 AM|

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address the U.S. Congress just days before Israel’s parliamentary election offers him invaluable pre-vote publicity, but may also have shaken the balance of U.S.-Israel ties.

John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, issued the invitation without consulting the White House, a breach of protocol since it is normally up to a head of state to invite a foreign leader.

It also does not appear that Netanyahu, a right-winger who has a testy relationship with Barack Obama, let the president know about the invitation before accepting it, underscoring their increasingly tense ties.

The upshot is that Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress on March 3 – the third time he has had the honour – but will not meet Obama. He will also attend the policy conference of AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobby, a must for any Israeli leader.

From Netanyahu’s point of view, he achieves several goals, strutting his stuff in front of an applauding Republican-led Congress two weeks before Israelis vote on March 17.

While that may not swing undecided voters, it is the sort of primetime appearance that can shore up the base and help Netanyahu, currently neck-and-neck with his centre-left rivals in most polls, pip the opposition on the day.

It also allows the prime minister, a staunch advocate of a tougher line against Iran, to beat that drum before a receptive audience and parade his credentials as a global security hawk, a message that plays well domestically.

Add the opportunity to sweeten his already close ties with the Republican leadership before next year’s U.S. presidential election, and the bonus of an AIPAC gathering, and it looks like a very worthwhile trip.

Even the fact he will not meet Obama could play in his favour. While it is a snub, past meetings between the two have been frosty and made Netanyahu look awkward or defensive. With less than two years of Obama’s presidency remaining, Netanyahu is hardly banking on rapprochement.

As his close confidant Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said last month: “This (U.S.) administration won’t be around forever”, suggesting Israel’s leader is already looking to the next, possibly Republican, president for warmer ties.

“UNPRECEDENTED RIFT”

Yet while there may be good reasons for Netanyahu to go to Washington almost in spite of Obama – Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying the Israeli leader had “spat” in the president’s face – there are risks too.

Obama’s presidency may be waning, but two years is still a long time and he has shown a willingness to take bold decisions when the moment strikes, such as on Cuba and immigration.

The U.S. administration has repeatedly expressed frustration with the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Further steps in that direction could draw stronger U.S. responses, possibly in coordination with Europe.

More worrying, say Israeli commentators, is the way Netanyahu has buddied up to Republicans, creating a party political allegiance rather than one between two states.

“These relations are the greatest strategic asset that Israel has had since its establishment,” former diplomat Alon Pinkas wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s leading daily.

“Netanyahu has harmed, weakened and finally destroyed the interpersonal channel (with the US president) and created an unprecedented rift in the relations between president and prime minister.”

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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Treasonous act in my book

John Boehner and members of Congress are supposed to put their country before their party, and purportedly siding with a foreign leader over your own president is unprecedented, an outrageous breach in protocol; trying to sabotage the international talks on a nuclear deal with Iran, they’re even willing to partner with a foreign government to undermine American foreign policy – is committing a treasonous act!

On the record, President Obama and his team have said very little about congressional Republicans partnering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to derail international nuclear talks with Iran. Administration officials said the president will not meet with Netanyahu during his March trip, but that’s only to prevent the appearance of interference with the Israeli election to be held two weeks later.
Behind the scenes, however, it seems the White House isn’t pleased.
“Senior American official” as quoted by Haaretz: “We thought we’ve seen everything. But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”
Josh Marshall added that even American Jewish groups “who seldom allow any daylight between themselves and the Israeli government appear shocked by Netanyahu’s move and are having difficulty defending it.”  via ‘There are things you simply don’t do’

President Barack Obama will not meet Israel’s prime minister when he visits Washington in March, the White House said on Thursday, after being blindsided by the Republicans’ invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress on Iran.

Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said Obama was withholding an invitation for Oval Office talks with Netanyahu because of Israel’s March 17 elections.

“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” Meehan said in statement.

“Accordingly, the president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.” via ‘Obama will not meet Israel’s Netanyahu on U.S. visit’

Hum… #DLU_US! What are your thoughts?

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