Joint session of the US Congress 311 (R).
(photo credit: Jim Young / Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants to surprise the international community
in his speech before the US Congress in late May – and is unlikely to unveil
more than the rough outlines of what he will discuss before then, government
sources said Wednesday.
The sources were replying to reports that
Netanyahu was considering delivering part of this speech to the opening session
of the Knesset, which convenes on May 16 – six days before he is scheduled to go
to the US.
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According to reports, the idea of withholding the speech was
raised in light of criticism Netanyahu has taken for delivering what is expected
to be a major diplomatic address, of great import to Israelis.
said last week at a speech to Likud activists that the speech to the joint
session of Congress will deal with Iran, the diplomatic process with the
Palestinians and US-Israel bilateral ties.
It is traditional for
political leaders – including the prime minister – to address the Knesset at the
opening of each session.
Even if Netanyahu were to sidestep the scheduled
May 16 opening of the summer session, the opposition can – and frequently does –
force the prime minister to address the Knesset by gathering a third of all MK
The opposition is likely to find some support among
right-wing members of Likud, who have also pushed for Netanyahu to announce the
general points of his Washington speech in advance of his
Earlier this week, MK Danny Danon (Likud) called on the prime
minister to address the Likud Knesset faction on the opening day of the session
to brief them regarding the speech’s content.
Questions have also been
raised in the US about whether the US Congress was the best place for a
Netanyahu speech – and whether he was trying to bypass US President Barack Obama
by speaking to Congress.
For instance, at a State Department briefing on
Tuesday, one journalist asked acting spokesman Mark Toner what the
Administration thought of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to
The speech, Toner said, “will allow him to talk about some of
these issues to our Legislative Branch, which is an important part of our Middle
The reporter then interrupted Toner, and said: “Well, it
is, except that the Executive Branch sets foreign policy for this, and not the
Asked whether the Administration would like to know what
Netanyahu was going to say before he delivered the address, Toner said the
Administration was “in close contact with the Israeli Government and with Prime
Minister Netanyahu’s office, and have good communications with
“It’s his decision, obviously, whether to address
Congress. We believe it’s always useful to have him come and talk about
Netanyahu’s much-anticipated speech is widely seen in
Jerusalem as Israel’s chance to take the diplomatic initiative, and push back
against momentum developing for the UN General Assembly to adopt some kind of
resolution in September, either endorsing or recognizing a Palestinian state
within the 1967 lines.
Toner, however, made it clear during his press
briefing that the US was opposed to such efforts.
Regarding a Palestinian
unilateral declaration of statehood, or recognition by the UN, Toner said,
“we’ve been very transparent in saying that we don’t believe it’s a good idea,
we don’t believe it’s helpful.”
Israeli officials, meanwhile, were
markedly non-committal Wednesday to Palestinian claims that France and Britain
may vote in the UN for Palestinian statehood in September.
“We would have
a problem with them giving dividends to the Palestinians for not going to talks
with Israel. If people think they are moving peace foreword, they are doing the
opposite,” an official, requesting anonymity, said.
In a development
related to where and how Netanyahu chooses to get his message across, the Prime
Minister’s Office announced Wednesday that Netanyahu would begin taking
questions on a regular basis via YouTube and Facebook.
According to a
statement put out by his office, Netanyahu made this decision following the
Channel 2/YouTube interview he conducted at the end of March that was seen by
more than one million people world wide.
Neither the number of questions
he will answer at each sitting, or how often he will do so, has been
Netanyahu continues to refuse granting interviews to Israeli
newspapers, even though he does grant interviews with international media
outlets, and last week sat down with AFP.Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed
to this report.