Mr. Netanyahu goes to Washington

In Israel, September has ceased to be a month; it has become a threatening concept wrapped in scary platitudes, with the best case scenario being a benign Congressional ego-massage.

US Congress (photo credit: courtesy)
US Congress
(photo credit: courtesy)
A few short days before Osama bin Laden found himself floating with the fish in the Indian Ocean, the main event dominating Israel’s diplosphere was the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Israelis were quasi-serious when they heatedly debated the implications this development would have on the peace process. So as not to poop the party, no one thought it worthwhile to remind the talking heads that there is no peace process.
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And a few short days before that, the chattering classes fervently dissected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's proposed speech in Washington, scheduled for later this month. They gesticulated, postulated and opined about the speech’s contents. Contents that they didn't and still don't have the slightest clue about. Nonetheless, Israelis from all political persuasions were doing Netanyahu an unsolicited favor running drafts by him; telling him what he absolutely must include, and what he is categorically forbidden to mention.
A few days before that, a pseudo-scientific - but thoroughly comprehensive  - comparison of Netanyahu's and President Barack Obama's respective peace plans was the talk of the town. The fact that neither had actually presented a plan was a mere technicality. After all, when has the absence of something concrete stopped anyone in Israel from passionately expressing an opinion about it?
During the aforementioned “few–day” timeframes, an ominous cloud hovered over everyone. Terrified, worried sick and losing sleep, people were in a delirium, constantly mumbling the word "September." To most of the world, it is known simply as the ninth month of the calendar year. For children in the western hemisphere, the ninth month signifies the start of school. To denizens of Washington, it is the month in which another losing season for the Redskins invariably begins. But in Israel, "September" has assumed a mythical significance of apocalyptic proportions. The world, you see, will never be the same after "September."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak famously labeled the upcoming ninth month as an impending "Tsunami." For his part, PM Netanyahu flew this week to Paris and London in a last ditch attempt to cancel the month altogether and convince the world that August should naturally spillover into October.
So why the doomsday hoopla? September, of course, is the month in which the Palestinians are purportedly going to ask the United Nations to officially recognize a Palestinian state based on 1967 lines. Even a US veto in the Security Council will not prevent what is expected to be a whopping majority vote in support at the General Assembly.
The talk about peace plans, speeches and a Fatah-Hamas government was perpetuated by the daunting specter of "September."  To the degree that the repetitious and cliché-ridden interviews given by Israeli politicians’ – regardless of their politics - ceased to have actual explanations on what it is exactly they are referring to. Instead, they opted to regurgitate the ambiguous codeword in question: “September must be dealt with; September must be averted at all costs; it is an imperative that we handle September, confront September and preferably cancel September.
September is also the reason Mr. Netanyahu is going to Washington in May.  
Make no mistake: had it not been for September, it is highly unlikely that Netanyahu would have bothered making the trip. Plainly, there is nothing in it for him - least of all to meet with a president high on post-Osama steroids who is no doubt impatient and somewhat indignant toward Netanyahu's perceived antics.
And then comes "The Speech." Hailed as the speech to end all speeches,  this is the real deal. The question is whether it is at all necessary.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, I beseech you, why propose a speech and hint to the fact that it will contain dramatic peace overtures if you don't actually believe you have a credible partner? 
Why talk about "plans" when so many already exist? If you had a plan in mind, why did you waste two years? If you don't genuinely believe in the viability of a more-of-the-same failed peace process, why go through the trouble at all and invite pressure, both domestic and international, and inevitable derision afterwards?
If you firmly believe that the trust required to implement a process is non-existent, why hype up the speech? No doubt this was a decision that Netanyahu regretted once he saw how the level of expectation rose accordingly but unrealistically.
Yet Mr. Netanyahu, under September's duress, decided to go to Washington anyway.
Amazingly, the decision to deliver a major speech in Washington was received as if it's the natural thing to do. It isn't and neither should it be.
For 2000 years, Jews dreamed of regaining independence in their ancestral homeland. Zionism's raison d'être was and is to normalize Jewish life through sovereignty, by means of establishing a nation-state. Which is why the State of Israel has the Knesset, the expression and epicenter of sovereignty. If the Knesset isn't good enough, how about taking the speech on tour in Parliaments all over the world? Surely the British Parliament, the German Bundestag, the Russian Duma and the Chinese National People's Congress want to hear it too.
Let’s not even get into the prime minister’s moral obligation to inform his own people of what he has in mind first. Suffice it to say, that if indeed this dramatic departure from the status-quo is a tactical paradigm shift, or a new policy, Netanyahu owes his people a direct explanation.
But, if all of the above is just hype and spin, why are you wasting the little credibility you have in Washington and going to Congress? You are willingly courting criticism by failing to deliver the speech the world wants to hear. And fail you will, because the speech that the world wants would mean a total disintegration of your coalition.
It is also not my intention to delve into the delicate politics in Washington that you habitually meddle in. For a foreign leader to appear in front of a Joint Meeting of Congress (as opposed to a Joint Session), you first need the consent of the House leadership. But the House leadership is Republican, so your approaching them was not exactly well received in the White House. Neither was the Democratic Senate particularly ecstatic, they went along with it simply because it wasn't worth the hassle to do otherwise and also because, frankly Mr. Netanyahu, you attract curiosity.
But maybe Netanyahu really will deliver a "New Frontier" speech. After all, Congress heard out former heads of state Yitzhak Rabin in 1976, Begin and Sadat in 1978, King Hussein and Rabin again in 1994, and finally Shimon Peres in 1996  following Rabin’s assassination.
But in a cynical and disillusioned Washington it’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn with Netanyahu’s previous Joint Meeting appearance. In July 1996, a Republican majority led by Newt Gingrich hosted Netanyahu, who was under the wishful impression that Bill Clinton would lose reelection later that year. Netanyahu paid dearly for his mistake.
Netanyahu's logic in 2011? Pander to a Congress on the verge of election year, get four standing ovations, reiterate the eternal ally-ship thanks to the great men and women in this here Congress, and ultimately deflect whatever pressure the administration was planning to exert. That way, even the speech doesn't have to present anything new. Just ego-massage the audience.
A few short days ago, that must have sounded a good idea. But back then every Tea Party Republican had something clever to say about President Obama's national security credentials. Back then, Osama bin Laden wasn’t floating with fish.
The writer is a diplomat who recently served as consul-general in New York.