Netanyahu’s scheduled address to the US Congress has created a storm, but the Israeli leader remains determined to warn against a dangerous deal with Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled address at the US Congress in March on Iran’s race to nuclear capability continues to generate political controversy in Israel and diplomatic upheaval abroad.
Congress’s invitation to the Israeli leader raised the ire of the Obama administration. American officials say that extending the invitation without notifying the president in advance constituted a breach of protocol and that an address by Netanyahu during an Israeli national election campaign would be inappropriate.
US Vice-President Joe Biden, who is also President of the Senate, announced on Friday that he will not attend the address because he will be out of town.
A number of Democrats in Congress, including Reps. John Lewis and Jim Clyburn, announced that they plan on boycotting Netanyahu’s speech, viewing it as disrespectful to Obama.
Democrats are also circulating a letter among colleagues urging Speaker of the House John Boehner, who officially invited Netanyahu, to postpone the speech until after the Israeli elections and the Congressional vote on the bill promoting sanctions against Iran, scheduled for March 24.
A Republican counter-letter is being distributed as well, saying “it is necessary now for Congress to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu and welcome his expertise on Iran’s regional designs.”
Boehner told CBS’s “60 Minutes” recently that he had notified Obama about the invitation hours before making it public.
“There’s nobody in the world who can talk about the threat of radical terrorism — nobody can talk about the threat the Iranians pose, not just to the Middle East and to Israel…. but to the entire world – than Bibi Netanyahu,” Boehner stated.
American Jewish Leaders Fear Friction
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, announced on Monday that he, too, was joining the boycott. “The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy, and the idea that the president wasn’t even consulted – that is wrong,” Sanders said. “I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I’m not going.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, have urged Netanyahu to reschedule or cancel his address, fearing further friction between Israel and the US.
In an attempt to calm the situation, Netanyahu reportedly phoned senior Democrats, and Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, met with several representatives.
There are also reports that Netanyahu and his team are considering amending the format of the speech, possibly delivering the address in a closed session or in smaller meetings with leading lawmakers.
Another suggestion was that Netanyahu deliver his speech during the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, which he is scheduled to address in any case.
Obama himself will not meet with Netanyahu during the latter’s visit to the US, ostensibly because the March 3rd speech would take place just two weeks before the Israeli elections.
“It does not make sense to sour the negotiations [with Iran] a month or two before they’re about to be completed, and we should play that out. If, in fact, we can get a deal, then we should embrace that,” Obama stated during a joint White House news conference on Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“If we can’t get a deal, then we’ll have to make a set of decisions and, as I’ve said to Congress, I’ll be the first one to work with them to apply even stronger measures against Iran,” he said.
“But what’s the rush? Unless your view is that it’s not possible to get a deal with Iran and it shouldn’t even be tested. And that I cannot agree with, because as the President of the United States, I’m looking at what the options are if we don’t get a diplomatic resolution. And those options are narrow, and they’re not attractive,” he added.
Asked about his decision not to see Netanyahu, he gave what seemed like a dig to the Israeli prime minister, saying: “As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House, and I suspect she wouldn’t have asked for one.”
He also repeated the protocol-breaching claim, saying that his reasoning “has to do with how we do business, and I think it’s important for us to maintain these protocols because the US-Israeli relationship is not about a particular party.”
US-Israel Ties ‘Not in Crisis’
Speaking at the Israel Diamond Exchange in Tel Aviv on Monday, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that the US-Israel relationship was “not in crisis.”
“We will overcome this [disagreement] and continue working together regardless of the debate about Netanyahu’s speech to Congress,” Shapiro said. “Our goal is to reach a diplomatic agreement that would ensure Iran does not require nuclear weapons.”
A spokesman for Boehner said on Monday that Netanyahu’s speech was still scheduled.
“While there are those who are focusing on protocol or politics, a bad deal with Iran is forming in Munich that will endanger Israel’s existence,” he said on Monday. “According to reports, the agreement will allow them to produce dozens of nuclear bombs. As prime minister, it is my duty to do everything to prevent this dangerous agreement, and that’s why I’m determined to go to Washington and present Israel’s position before the members of Congress and the American people.”
“From the state’s establishment to this day, there have been significant disagreements between Israel and the US, and relations remained strong. This will be the case this time as well,” Netanyahu affirmed.
By Aryeh Savir
Staff Writer, United with Israel
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