Why such a warm reception for Benjamin Netanyahu at US Congress?
Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu drew a line in the sand Tuesday during his speech to the US Congress, regarding future borders with any new Palestinian state. The applause was enthusiastic.
The moment many US lawmakers were waiting for came toward the end of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech Tuesday to a joint session of Congress. "Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967," he said, to a vigorous burst of cheers and applause.Skip to next paragraph
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With that, Mr. Netanyahu may have demonstrated that the American Congress stands with Israel, and not with President Obama, on the matter of a starting point for resuming peace talks with the Palestinians – if and when such negotiations ever do resume.
That, perhaps, does not come as a huge surprise, given the shared Judeo-Christian tradition and shared democratic values. But there's also the pro-Israel lobby, long one of the most effective on Capitol Hill. Since 1990, pro-Israel groups have contributed more than $97 million to congressional candidates – 67 percent to Democrats and 33 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Some 38 lobbyists are registered on pro-Israel campaigns, spending more than $8.6 million to lobby Congress and the White House since Mr. Obama took office.
The pro-Israel lobby is also sustained by a robust grass-roots operation, on display Tuesday as thousands of people attending the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) jammed congressional corridors to lobby lawmakers on controversies of the day, including cutting aid to the Palestinians, blocking a United Nations vote on the creation of a Palestinian state, and defusing talk of a return to Israel's 1967 borders.
Democrats and the vice president, who also attended the speech by "Bibi," sought to play down a rift between Obama and the Israeli prime minister. Reports of a rupture in relations proliferated after Obama said during a major address last Thursday that Israel's pre-1967 borders should be the basis for establishing territorial boundaries of Israel and a new Palestinian state, with mutually agreed land swaps to account for Israeli population centers in land held after the Six-Day War.
Republican presidential candidates, meanwhile, claimed that rifts had emerged between Israel and the Obama administration – and within Democratic ranks over the president’s remarks. And Rep. David Dreier (R) of California noted to fellow House leaders that Vice President Biden was among those applauding Netanyahu's line in the sand on the 1967 boundaries. (As a US senator, Mr. Biden was among the strongest supporters of Israel in Congress.) Did his applause signal that he is distancing himself from the president?
House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland chalked up Biden's response to a clarification. “More was made of the 1967 reference than was intended,” he said, referring to the tempest over the president’s remarks. The press should have paid more attention to Obama’s calls to negotiate new borders, which included the likelihood of land swaps.