Netanyahu alienates Democratic allies with US Congress address

(By Deutsche Welle) Unyielding support for Israel has long been a bipartisan pillar of US foreign policy. But Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress has further strained his already tense relationship with the White House.

Israeli leaders normally receive a glowing bipartisan welcome in Washington. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress in 2011, he received 29 standing ovations from both Democrats and Republicans.

But this time around it will be different. More than two dozen lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have vowed to boycott Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday. Vice President Joe Biden will be skipping town for an impromptu trip to South America, and President Obama has declined to meet with Netanyahu during the Israeli leader’s visit to Washington.

The controversy started in January when House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress on “the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life.” Boehner, a Republican, did not consult the White House before extending the invitation. He criticized President Obama for devoting too little attention to Islamic fundamentalism in his state of the union speech. Netanyahu would fill in the gaps for the American people, according to Boehner.

“I frankly didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity,” America’s third most senior elected official told Fox News, referring to the Obama administration.

Leading Democrats were outraged. Not only had the president been rebuffed, but Netanyahu was scheduled to address Congress just two weeks before parliamentary elections in Israel. Susan Rice, the White House national security adviser, suggested that the invitation was motivated by political partisanship, calling the move potentially “destructive” to the “fabric” of the US-Israel relationship.

“Much of the controversy has been over whether this was a deliberate political maneuver by Boehner to put the Democrats in a defensive position of either appearing to be critical of Israel by not coming to the speech, or showing up and giving legitimacy to what will certainly be a critique of the Obama administration,” William Quandt, who served on the National Security Council in the Nixon and Carter administrations, told DW.

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US-sponsored Mideast peace talks facing failure?

(By Deutsche Welle) US Secretary of State John Kerry has forged a tentative agreement between Israelis and Palestinians on renewed peace talks. But the two sides still face fundamental disagreements about the preconditions for negotiations.

Three years after US President Barack Obama’s failed foray into the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his secretary of state returned to Washington over the weekend with an apparent pledge by the two sides to restart negotiations aimed at a peace accord.

“I’m pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters last Friday in Jordan’s capital, Amman.

But both the Israelis and Palestinians have remained mum over the details of the prospective talks, delegating the public relations job to Kerry. And the US secretary of state has told the press only that the two sides have agreed to sit down with each other at the negotiating table.

The chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators – Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat – would begin preliminary talks in Washington “within the next week or so,” according to Kerry.

“Neither side wants to be blamed for a collapse of Kerry’s efforts, and both sides are in fact nervous that without some process the situation will deteriorate and produce a worse outcome,” Aaron Miller, a vice president of the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former advisor to Democrat and Republican secretaries of state, told DW.

“The question that remains to be seen is whether or not both Netanyahu and Abbas have made private commitments to Kerry on the parameters that guide the negotiations,” Miller said.

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