No Good Comes Of Netanyahu’s Speech Tomorrow For America Or For Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to a joint session of Congress tomorrow. The event has stirred up enormous controversy, and it has tested the close U.S.-Israel relationship.
The policy issue at hand is a disagreement that Netanyahu and Congressional Republicans have with President Obama over policy toward Iran. But the underlying and far more concerning issue is that a policy debate — especially on something as critical as how to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons — is damaging the historic relationship between the United States and Israel with political gamesmanship.
That political gamesmanship points in two directions. Breaking longstanding protocol, Republican Speaker John Boehner went around normal diplomatic channels and kept the White House and State Department in the dark about his decision to invite the Israeli Prime Minister to speak. The notion that such an invitation could be granted without the engaged consultation of the president and within two weeks of an Israeli election is unprecedented. Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation given these circumstances — and then to reject an invitation from Senate Democratic leaders for a private and more candid discussion — shows that he is thinking first about his upcoming election in Israel, not the policy debate over Iran.
This is a complex issue, but we want to highlight three key points to keep in mind considering this event and the broader context.
1. The United States has a single foreign policy — not a Republican one and a Democratic one.
Israeli leaders, including Mr. Netanyahu, have delivered speeches to Congress in the past, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But Speaker Boehner was wrong to go around protocol. In fact, Boehner and Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States (and a former Republican operative), were discussing the details of the speech for 13 days before the White House was notified, just hours before the formal invitation to Netanyahu was issued.
If Boehner and the GOP disagree with President Obama’s foreign policy, they can and should make the case to him and the public. What should not happen is a special session of Congress just to let a foreign leader help his election chances at home and rebuke our president’s policy. Regardless of internal debate, leaders of the United States should stand together on foreign affairs. And foreign leaders, no matter how close or how important, should not be able to use our government for their own politics.
2. Boehner and Netanyahu’s actions are weakening America’s bipartisan support for Israel.
The result of Boehner’s decision to invite the Israeli Prime Minister — and of Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to accept — is not just to push back on a policy plan from President Obama. Their actions are an attempt, perceived or otherwise, to undermine President Obama and therefore cause division on party lines, forcing Democratic members of Congress to choose between their deep commitment to Israel and to their party and president. At last count, 53 Democrats, in addition to Vice President Joe Biden, are not attending Netanyahu’s speech. Netanyahu declining Democrats’ outreach efforts doesn’t help either.
This unnecessarily hurts the U.S.-Israel relationship, which has always been strong on both sides of the aisle — something of profound importance to supporting Israel in its very tough neighborhood. Shockingly, it also hurts Netanyahu’s supposed purpose of winning Congressional support for his position on Iran: he needs Democrats on his side and instead is alienating them.
3. America’s current negotiations with Iran are the best way forward.
The content of Mr. Netanyahu’s speech will center on the disagreement he has with the Obama administration over how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons (obviously the two countries agree on that objective). President Obama has been working with an international coalition to negotiate a deal with Iran that strictly limits Iran’s nuclear program with verification in exchange for relief from some economic sanctions. Mr. Netanyahu believes that no good could come out of this — that Iran wants to develop a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel no matter what — and therefore is pushing to undermine the coalition and encourage the U.S. Congress to pass stronger sanctions.
Reasonable minds can differ about the prospect of potential negotiations, and even agree that a bad deal would be a disaster. But absent a negotiated, verifiable agreement, there is no way to ensure Iran cannot get a nuke. For Congress to seek to undermine the president’s authority to work with the international community to conduct such an investigation is both unusual and dangerous. In this high-stakes confrontation with Iran, it directly weakens the hand of the United States negotiators. And no one – including Netanyahu — has any viable alternative to meet the goal of an Iran that cannot get nuclear weapons.
BOTTOM LINE: Political gamesmanship has no place in the middle of the relationship between the United States and Israel. Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu are wrong to have introduced it into the relationship. No matter your political party or leanings, the result is nothing good — for America or for Israel.
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