An address to a joint session of Congress by a friendly foreign leader is a fairly common occurrence, but some liberals are treating the invitation extended by Speaker of the House John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a partisan intrusion into American foreign policy. That’s the spin about the proposed Netanyahu speech in today’s front-page story in the New York Times. According to the Times’s Helene Cooper, by inviting Netanyahu to speak the GOP leadership seeks to preempt the administration’s possible plans for putting forward a detailed plan to solve the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.
With the ongoing battles over the federal budget and debt limits, it’s not likely that Speaker Boehner is devoting that much effort to thinking about the Middle East peace process. But there is no denying that GOP leaders have no qualms about offering a national platform to a foreign leader whom President Obama has gone out of his way to insult and marginalize over the past two years. The president’s distaste for Netanyahu and less than enthusiastic support for the U.S. alliance with Israel is not exactly a state secret. But given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in the country, the speaker understands there is no downside in associating himself and his party with Netanyahu.
Republicans have been frequently accused in recent years of trying to make Israel a “wedge” issue to peel away Jewish voters from the Democrats, a charge that is repeated in the Times piece. Cooper quotes Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress as trashing the invitation to Netanyahu as an attempt to make partisan hay, which the liberal think tank thinks is actually “bad for Israel.” But the assertion that this mild interference in Obama’s efforts to outmaneuver Netanyahu is bad for the Jewish state or foolishly partisan misunderstands what is at stake.
If Obama intends to follow through on the threat already articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to unveil his own peace plan, then he is making an appalling blunder. The failure of the peace process has nothing to do with alleged lack of Israeli concessions (which have already led to the installation of an Islamist terror regime in Gaza and an autonomous government led by Fatah in the West Bank) nor even a failure of American leadership. American presidents have been issuing Middle East peace plans for decades, and there is no reason to believe that Barack Obama can succeed in imposing his will on the region any more than Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, or Bill Clinton did.
So long as the Palestinians won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter what its borders then there is nothing that the United States or Israel can do about it. Indeed, the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations, and its plan to go to the United Nations to get approval for a unilateral assertion of sovereignty over disputed territory, illustrate yet again the Palestinian disdain for a mutually-agreed upon settlement. That Obama fails to understand this basic truth makes his forthcoming foray into the peace process all the more misguided.
Obama’s mishandling of Middle East policy ranks far below Obamacare and tax-and-spending policy as Republican issues. But if the president blunders his way into another dispute with Israel, it will become a legitimate matter for public debate. Though it’s not clear that there are all that many votes up for grabs here, both Republicans and Democrats have an obligation to speak up against any Obama plan that futilely seeks to impose conditions on Israel that its democratically elected government rejects. Far from putting Obama “on the spot,” as the Times claims, what is ripening is merely the fruit of the administration’s own mistakes.