During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, the Israeli PM met with members of Congress as part of a PR offensive to marginalize recent criticism from the Obama Administration over the announced East Jerusalem settlements. In sharp contrast to the insulted frustration echoed by Administration officials in recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood by Minority Leader John Boehner and the Israeli Prime Minister while declaring; “We in Congress stand by Israel..In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.” Obama later met with Netanyahu at the White House without posing with the Israel PM for the cameras.
The House leadership’s public posture shows a clear divide between the Obama Administration’s approach to dealing with Netanyahu and that of Congress. While Administration officials directly deal with the diplomatic consequences of Israeli expansion into Palestinian areas, the House leaders pay lip service to ‘furthering the peace process’ while allocating $3 billion annually to help Netanyahu expand and maintain the settlements.
Over 300 members of Congress have signed a declaration affirming “the unbreakable bond that exists between [U.S.] and the State of Israel”, which was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And while the statements of unconditional support expressed by Congressional leaders serve to encourage Netanyahu’s official actions, they also undermine any political leverage the Obama Administration may have to encourage a halt to settlement building in East Jerusalem. Ironically, the US Congress may become one of President Obama’s main obstacles in dealing with an increasingly defiant Netanyahu Government.
Despite all the pressure from AIPAC on the Congress, the President should continue and expand efforts to halt settlements by getting tough with Israel.