Benjamin Netanyahu to Come to the White House for the First Time Since Highly Controversial Speech to U.S. Congress

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes his first trip back to Washington after a high-profile – and unsuccessful – bid to scupper the Iran deal. What should we expect?

Before we get to what is really going on, let me just give you the official line from the White House on Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest visit to Washington.

“The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister regional security issues, including implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to peacefully and verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and countering Tehran’s destabilising activities,” the White House says, adding the president “looks forward” to discussing the “the need for the genuine advancement of a two-state solution”.

Aaah. If only life were that simple – two powerful men sitting down to work on some of the major issues of the day in a constructive and fraternal manner. But this is Bibi and Obama. And they have history – most of it bad.

For a start this will be Benjamin Netanyahu’s first visit to Washington since his speech to Congress urging Americans to reject a deal with Iran that the US was still in the process of negotiating. An invitation that had been extended – and accepted – without the knowledge of the White House.

I wrote about it at the time as the chutzpah of a head of a foreign government coming to the US Congress to appeal directly to the American people to reject what their democratically elected president was negotiating. The fury levels in the West Wing were off the scale.

It was a mighty high-risk gamble by the Israeli prime minister. And it failed. It was a hammer blow, too, for one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying organisations, including pro-Israel group Aipac (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee).

Yes, there was strong opposition to the Iran deal and Mr Netanyahu tapped into concerns that still exist today, but ultimately the White House marshalled enough support to stop the deal being blocked by Congress.

The whole process had another effect. It nudged the subject of Israel, a country that has historically always enjoyed strong support from both Democrats and Republicans, into yet another fractious partisan issue. I say nudged, because Israel still enjoys strong backing on both sides of the aisle – but it has made Bibi a much more love/loathe figure than previous Israeli prime-ministers.

It is perfectly possible for world leaders to have a disagreement on policy and to differ respectfully. But Mr Netanyahu has just appointed Dr Ran Baratz as the head of Israel’s National Public Diplomacy Directorate.

Dr Baratz has some colourful views. He described President Obama as a modern anti-Semite and Secretary of State John Kerry as having the mental capacity of a child. These comments were made on his Facebook page (really not the smartest or most private place to sound off when you are about to get a job in public diplomacy) just after Mr Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March.

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SOURCE: BBC News – Jon Sopel