'PM to surprise int'l community in Congress speech'

Gov't sources say PM considering delivering part of speech in Knesset; questions raised about PM's choice of Congress as venue.

Joint session of the US Congress 311 (R) (photo credit: Jim Young / Reuters)
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.
Netanyahu 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 signatures.
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 departure.
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 Netanyahu.
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 East policy.”
The reporter then interrupted Toner, and said: “Well, it is, except that the Executive Branch sets foreign policy for this, and not the Congress.”
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 them.
“It’s his decision, obviously, whether to address Congress. We believe it’s always useful to have him come and talk about these issues.”
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 determined.
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.