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Obama and Netanyahu. 'Such a behavior carries a price'
Photo: AFP
Nahum Barnea
Netanyahu's dangerous deal with the Republicans
Op-ed: The American Republican Party is intervening in our elections, and in return an Israeli party is intervening in their politics. They are helping our prime minister beat his rivals here, and he is helping them humiliate their president there.
In the 1983 Israel State Cup soccer competition, Hapoel Tel Aviv played against Maccabi Tel Aviv. The victory goal was scored by Hapoel player Gili Landau. It was a historic goal. Not because of its beauty, but because Landau, a brilliant footballer, scored the goal with his hand, under the referee's nose.

  

 

Netanyahu is not Gili Landau. Not at all. But the technique is the same technique: What isn't accomplished with the leg will be accomplished with the hand; what doesn’t work in Israel will work in Washington.

 

The invitation Netanyahu received from United States House of Representative Speaker John Boehner, to address a joint session of the two houses of Congress, is a brilliant electoral trick.

 

Netanyahu will deliver the speech on February 11, five weeks before Election Day. The room will be filled to the brim. The audience will interrupt the speech with rapturous applause 23 times, and diligent spokespersons will stress that this is a number which has not been seen since foreign leaders began addressing the Congress. Senators will praise and glorify the man and the speech, and will glance as they speak at the gallery of distinguished guests, to make sure that the billionaire writes the check.

 

Will the Israelis who watch the show on television, live from Washington, be impressed? Of course they will. Netanyahu knows how to impress. One of the Likud leaders once told me that even when Netanyahu had reached a low point, both among the broad public and in his own party, people were amazed when they heard him speak clear American, with all the manners. "Listen to that English," they said. "Listen to that English. Just like an American."

 

Prime minister's 2011 Congress address. 'Netanyahu is no longer obsessed with Iran, he is obsessed with Election Day' (Photo: Reuters)
Prime minister's 2011 Congress address. 'Netanyahu is no longer obsessed with Iran, he is obsessed with Election Day' (Photo: Reuters)

 

Netanyahu is not the first prime minister to be aided by the American political system on his way to the polls. It's wrong and it harms the purity of the democratic process, but it's the reality. There are pressing interests on both sides, and there is a lot of temptation. One can only take comfort in the fact that in most cases these attempts fail.

 

But Netanyahu is taking it one step further this time. There has never been a deal like the one struck here: The American Republican Party is intervening in our elections, and in return an Israeli party is intervening in their politics. They are helping Netanyahu beat his rivals here, and he is helping them humiliate their rival there. It's dangerous. It's poisonous. It's not so amusing anymore.

 

The American administration has no doubt that the invitation was a joint scheme concocted by the Republicans in the Congress, the Prime Minister's Office and the Jewish patrons of both sides. According to the acceptable behavioral norms, the Congress leadership should have informed the White House about the invitation in advance. It didn't do so. Netanyahu should have informed the State Department and the White House about it, and perhaps even listen to their opinion about the timing. That wasn't done.

 

This isn’t just about good manners. According to my finest sources, Netanyahu last spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday. The Obama administration accepted Netanyahu's request and has been making a great effort in recent days to rescue Israel from the lawsuit filed against it at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. At Israel's request, the administration has been working in recent days to calm Iran down after Israel was accused of openly killing an Iranian general in Syria. The administration has also been working to approve additional funds for the Iron Dome system.

 

Netanyahu's decision to hide the invitation he received is perceived in Washington not just as impertinence by a guest, but also as ingratitude of the ugliest kind.

 

Secretary of State Kerry has been particularly offended, after investing so much in his relationship with Netanyahu and now being presented as worthless in front of the president and his colleagues. US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has also suffered injustice after rescuing Netanyahu from previous conflicts.

 

And the most important thing is the role Netanyahu has assumed in the confrontation between the Republicans and Obama on Iran. The president clarified in his State of the Union address this week that he would veto any Congress decision to step up the sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu's address, which will focus on Iran's guilt, will provide further ammunition for the Republicans' political war against the president. That's what they're inviting him for. He won't reinforce the battle against the Iranian nuclear program. Whatever the congress majority decides – the presidential veto will thwart the decision.

 

I heard voices in the administration on Wednesday which I had never heard before. We must make it clear to Netanyahu that such a behavior carries a price, they said. We must make it clear to the Israelis that their prime minister is losing a vital friend for a short-term political gain. Obama will serve in the White House for another year and a half and then, who knows, another democratic president could be elected. Israel must not lose the Democrats.

 

In the past, it appeared that the Iranian obsession was driving Netanyahu crazy. No more. It's not Iran, it's March 17.

 

Not so long ago, I wrote about his own Balfour Declaration: I'll stay at the prime minister's residence on Balfour Street at all costs. I don't care if the state will have to pay a price, because the state is me and I am the state.

 

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