Netanyahu set to ‘break new ground’ in speech to Congress

PM not ‘trying to bypass Obama’ by addressing lawmakers; PM expected to discuss plans for potential peace deal as well as Iran and Arab upheaval; Livni: Inaction is not an option.

By
May 24, 2011 02:36
3 minute read.
Bibi Netanyahu with VP Joe Biden

Bibi and Biden 311. (photo credit: GPO)

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will “break new ground” in his much-anticipated speech Tuesday to a special joint session of Congress, senior Israeli officials said Monday.

In addition to spelling out what he views as the fundamentals for a future peace deal with the Palestinians, Netanyahu is also expected to focus on Iran and the upheaval in the Arab world.

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This will be the second time Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress; the first came during his first tenure in 1996. Netanyahu is the sixth Israeli prime minister to receive the honor.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the invitation to address Congress – an invitation extended to few foreign leaders – reflects the wide bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and among the American public.

Sources close to Netanyahu rejected charges that by addressing Congress, the prime minister was attempting to bypass US President Barack Obama and take Israel’s case to the country’s lawmakers, since they are more amenable to Netanyahu and Israel than the president.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” one Israeli official said. “He is not trying to play on the US political field.”

Perhaps an indication that Netanyahu does not want to appear to be wading into American politics is the fact that although he is meeting the Senate and House leaders from both parties, he did not intend during this trip to meet any of the Republican 2012 presidential hopefuls.

The address to Congress, which Netanyahu has been working on for days with his senior adviser Ron Dermer, will come about 12 hours after Netanyahu gives a speech to over 10,000 delegates to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

That speech, coming after four stormy days in the USIsrael relationship, represented an effort by Netanyahu to put those events behind and stress the positive, strong elements of the relationship.

Netanyahu thanked the US for its deep commitment to Israel’s security, and thanked Obama and Congress for the recent allocation of an additional $205m. for the Iron Dome, a new mobile air defense system. Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu met with US Vice President Joe Biden in the White House for talks that the Prime Minister’s Office described as “warm and open.”

According to a statement issued by the PMO, the two discussed the close proximity between the US and Israeli positions, a proximity that has not been felt in recent days since the public policy spat between Netanyahu and Obama. According to the statement, the prime minister and Biden discussed ways to renew the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, as well as the fight against terrorism and ways to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Opposition head Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, addressed a closed session at the AIPAC conference on Monday.

Without mentioning Netanyahu by name, Livni said the “lack of action is not an option” and that her message – both regarding developments around the region and with the Palestinians – is that “if we do not lead, we will be led.”

Livni said that creating two homelands for two peoples is not doing a favor to anyone, including Obama, and that it has been the policy of the previous three governments and is not an anti-Israeli position.

In a clear jab at Netanyahu, she said that “fear is not a policy,” and added that she was pleased that Obama initiated a formula for restarting negotiations that could prevent the Palestinians from taking their call for statehood recognition to the UN in September.


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