Speaker of the House John Boehner announced Wednesday morning that he would invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress on Feb. 11. “In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” Boehner said in a press statement. The timing suits Netanyahu perfectly, as it comes five weeks before Israelis will go to the polls on March 17.
Netanyahu leads the race by a solid margin, but his party is lagging behind its rivals, some of which have already pledged to join forces in a left-wing government. One of his opponents’ main arguments is that “Bibi” has caused the deterioration of relations with the Obama administration. It is no secret that President Barack Obama would prefer to see Netanyahu lose, thence to be replaced by the dovish Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, who have promised to rotate leadership between them.
In December, Netanyahu explicitly accused his opponents of coordinating with the Obama administration to gain political advantage, after reports suggested that the U.S. intended to keep any further moves toward a Palestinian state at bay until after the election, lest the issue galvanize Bibi’s support. It would not be the first time that a Democratic administration had meddled in Israeli elections: Bill Clinton did all he could to ensure Netanyahu’s defeat in 1999 to Labor leader Ehud Barak.
In inviting Netanyahu, Boehner is checking Obama’s intervention, providing Bibi with a platform to reinforce his campaign message: namely, that only he is strong to advocate for Israel’s interests abroad (and against Obama in particular). And after Obama vowed to veto any new Iran sanctions in his State of the Union address Tuesday, and after he downplayed the threat of radical Islam over the past few weeks, Boehner is hoping to tap Bibi’s expertise and rhetorical skills to respond.
There is one additional issue that Netanyahu’s speech may advance: namely, cutting off funds to the Palestinian Authority. After the Palestinians applied to join the International Criminal Court earlier this month, violating earlier agreements and cutting off the prospects of peace talks in the near future, the Israeli government vowed to make good on its threat to push for Congress to cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
In the past, the Obama administration has resisted any such effort, and has maneuvered to keep the money flowing, fearful of losing leverage with the Palestinians. Yet with Republicans now in charge of the Senate, and with cutting Palestinian aid a rare point of consensus between the GOP’s hawkish and libertarian wings, Obama may be powerless to resist. He may have accepted that fact: unusually, he did not mention Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in his State of the Union address.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak