White House snub of Netanyahu further sours US-Israel relations

Israeli analysts warn the visit was endangering country’s close ties with US

Us president Barack Obama meets with Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the  White House in  2011. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Us president Barack Obama meets with Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House in 2011. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

 

US president Barack Obama and secretary of state John Kerry, in an unprecedented snub, have made it clear that they will not meet with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu when he travels to Washington in March.

Administration officials were angered by Mr Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation from the speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, to address a joint session of Congress on March 3rd, only two weeks before the Israeli election.

In a clear breach of protocol, neither the Congress nor Israeli officials consulted with the White House before announcing the invitation. Earlier this week, Israel’s ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, who was involved in planning the invitation, met for two hours with Mr Kerry but didn’t mention it.

Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that in keeping with “long-standing practice and principle” the president does not meet with heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections.

Mr Netanyahu will become only the second world leader to address a joint session of Congress three times. Winston Churchill was the first. He is expected to urge Congress to back stepped-up sanctions on Iran and reject the emerging nuclear deal with the Islamic state.

Veto a congressional

bill Mr Obama, in his State of the Union address this week, made it clear that he would veto a congressional

bill advocating additional sanctions, warning that such a move would be likely to derail the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world powers, which have now reached a critical stage.

With the right and centre- left blocs more or less equal in the polls, the congressional appearance will be an opportunity for Mr Netanyahu to portray himself to the electorate as an eloquent, tough-talking world leader defending Israel’s interests, while diverting the agenda away from domestic issues.

The US has long been Israel’s closest ally on the world stage and the relationship remains of vital strategic importance for Israel. However, the personal ties between the two leaders went sour long ago, partly due to Mr Netanyahu’s clear preference for Republican politics and politicians.

US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a key financial backer of the Republican party, also owns the free Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom, a mouthpiece for Mr Netanyahu.

Unnamed US officials accused Mr Netanyahu of playing politics with the US-Israel relationship in a move that could impact on Washington’s diplomatic support for Israel.

Israeli analysts warned that Mr Netanyahu was endangering the country’s close ties with the US.

“In close to six years as prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu 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,” wrote Alon Pinkas, who served as Israel’s consul-general in New York. “But Binyamin Netanyahu, despite his attempts to appear as such, is not the Republican senator from West Jerusalem. He is the prime minister of Israel.”