Netanyahu's reception muted by political tensions

The strain in the US-Israel relationship was evident as the prime minister addressed Congress in Washington D.C.

    Netanyahu's reception muted by political tensions
    Many members of Congress called the speech condescending, saying Netanyahu was using fear tactics to manipulate them [Reuters]

    The atmosphere during Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu's speech during this joint meeting of Congress stands in stark contrast to his address to Congress, almost four years ago.

    I was present for both. This time, the strain in the US-Israel relationship was evident.

    For decades there has been a consensus in support for Israel in the US Congress. Not this time. We are told that up to 56 members of Congress, mostly Democrats, boycotted the Netanyahu speech - unhappy that a breach of protocol had taken place.

    An invitation was extended by the top House Republican, without the knowledge of the Democratic president.

    There were still standing ovations throughout the Netanyahu's speech, but not as many as we saw in his previous address in 2011. Even more notable was the fact that during many of those ovations, a large number of Democratic lawmakers remained in their seats.

    The audience was sceptical and reaction to the speech was critical. Many members of Congress called the speech condescending. They accused Netanyahu of using fear tactics to manipulate the US Congress into rejecting any deal being negotiated by the P5 +1 countries.

    The top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, told reporters she was "near tears" that Netanyahu seemed to underestimate the ability of the world powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme to secure a deal that protects Israel and the rest of the world.

    Indeed, there wasn't a lot new in the arguments being made by the Israeli prime minister.

    Even President Obama, who says he didn't watch the speech but read the transcript, thought the same thing according to comments he made in the Oval office.

    He indicated that if the Israeli prime minister is unhappy with a diplomatic option to curb Iran's ability to obtain a nuclear weapon, he needed to offer a "viable alternative" - which did not happen.

    This is what has upset not just the Obama White House and Congressional members, but also the American public. While most in the US support Israel's right to security, they disagree along partisan lines about the best way to achieve that goal.

    Democrats in the US support the White House effort to secure a diplomatic option. Others, mostly hawkish Republicans, support the Israeli prime minister's claim that a deal with Iran doesn't block, but paves the way to it ultimately obtaining a nuclear weapon and therefore any deal with Iran should be rejected.

    But, perhaps most distressing for Americans of either political persuasion, seems to be the perceived arrogance of Israel and the timing of this speech just two weeks shy of the Israeli elections.

    There's a feeling that Israel has started to take for granted US support and there is a growing resentment among many that a foreign leader believed he could come into the US Congress and begin to dictate US foreign policy to achieve personal political goals, especially when it comes to Iran.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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