Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a tough task in his Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress. He’ll be trying to sway US public opinion to his vision of an Israeli-Palestinian peace, instead of a competing vision offered by President Obama.
For Mr. Netanyahu, the good news is that he will be attempting this feat in a sympathetic forum. Congress has long had warmer ties with Israel than have most US presidents.
Jewish voters are a powerful force in many congressional districts, for one thing. Many evangelical groups also have close ties with Israel.
“In the life of the state of Israel, we know of at least one fact that is and has always been certain – its friendship with the United States of America. And we are here today to reaffirm it, not only between ourselves, but to all the world,” said House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D) Sunday in an address to the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Yet Netanyahu will be on the defensive when he rises to speak. Mr. Obama last week outlined his own ideas about an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He asserted, among other things, that a peace plan should be based on the 1967 borders between Israel and Palestinian territory, with land swaps to accommodate some Israeli settlements. It’s a specific formulation that Israel rejects as the basis for talks.
Those borders are “indefensible,” Netanyahu said after the speech, though he did not specify what kind of borders he thought Israel would be able to protect.
How Netanyahu deals with this dispute in his congressional address could be among its most important points.
The Israeli leader is likely to make clear that his vision of negotiations does not include Hamas. The government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas currently plans to join forces with the vehemently anti-Israeli Hamas group, which governs the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu also is likely to reaffirm his view that Israel should be recognized as the homeland of the Jewish people – a formulation that in Israeli eyes would preclude the right of Palestinians to return to lands in Israel they now claim. And he almost certainly will stress that Israel is firmly opposed to any United Nations vote that would unilaterally recognize the independence of the Palestinian people.
On that last point, Netanyahu might find common ground with the White House. It’s possible that in taking a tougher line against the Israelis in his speech last week, Obama was laying the groundwork for a veto of such a UN vote in the Security Council later this year.