If the United States and Israel had Facebook pages, the status of their relationship would certainly be, “It’s complicated.”
Is it ever!
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is engaged in what appears to be a tough re-election fight coming up next month, has committed the diplomatic equivalent of a turd in a punch bowl. He accepted an ill-conceived and hugely insulting (to the Administration and standard diplomatic protocols) invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress. The invitation was extended by John Boehner and his House Republicans rather than the usual and expected State Department.
As haughty as it sounds (diplomacy often does), this kind of thing just isn’t done. Not in civil society. But then, civil society is something about which the current crop of conservatives in power in the GOP continually demonstrate they neither understand nor care about. So I guess I sort of understand their invitation to Netanyahu, an increasingly isolated ruler in his own country.
What I really don’t understand is his acceptance of the invitation. I guess there’s some domestic political edge that he perceives but he risks alienating his main protector and big brother without whom the Israeli state would likely not last a year, at least without launching nuclear missiles.
Secretary of State John Kerry has openly questioned Netanyahu’s judgment. He and VP Joe Biden have deliberately (it seems) planned to be out of the country while the Israeli chief is in the U.S. for his undiplomatic mission. President Obama has made it clear he won’t meet privately with Netanyahu. Senate Democrats declined an invitation to meet separately with him. A growing number of Democrats plan to boycott his speech to the joint session. It’s almost as if he was a saber-rattling warmongering outcast of a leader. Which increasingly seems to be his desired public perception.
Netanyahu certainly knows he won’t suffer any loss of support among American Jews who have always stood by Israel through thick or thin, regardless of how much of a rogue state they’ve been and completely irrespective of international sanctions and condemnation, including by the United Nations. Many of them will probably see this latest act of poor manners to be some sort of statement of courage and independence.
But my guess is that the Israeli leader may be underestimating the negative impact his ill-considered decision — to make Americans draw partisan lines in their overall support of his nation — will have on future support for his tiny country. At some point in the future, the realpolitik of the Middle East will strike some American president and his team as being skewed far too much in Israel’s favor. If and when that day comes, Israel will be forced to concede that Netanyahu’s planned unofficial U.S. visit was the beginning date for the deterioration of relations that will force Israel to play a more sane and cooperative role in world affairs.
I hope but do not expect that Netanyahu will yet have a change of heart and cancel this very bad plan.