Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington to make sure his message on Israel is being heard loud and clear, but while some on Capitol Hill are buying what Israel is selling, it’s unclear if the Obama administration will be as welcoming.
Netanyahu, in Washington to address AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee), made the rounds on the Hill, meeting with both House and Senate leaders on Tuesday before heading over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a late afternoon meeting with President Obama. The meeting between the two leaders comes at a time when U.S-Israel relations seem to be at a low point, with the White House asking Israel to stop building settlements and Israel insisting it will continue.
Netanyahu’s address at AIPAC Monday night sounded more like a line in the sand, rather than an attempt to work with the United States. “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital,” Netanyahu said. "Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two state solution." His comments came hours after Secretary of State Clinton told the same group that a building freeze in Israel would greatly increase security for that country. And while Netanyahu said Israel has no intention of governing Palestinians, and his country is “unjustly accused of not wanting peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said nothing could be further from the truth.
Republican Whip Eric Cantor (VA), the only Jewish Republican in Congress, met with Netanyahu on Tuesday and says the attempt to fan the flames on settlements is not helping the overall peace situation in the region. “There are broader issues at stake here and the construction issue in Jerusalem is a red herring,” Cantor told Fox News’ White House Correspondent Wendell Goler. “This is not what these peace talks should be about, these peace talks should be about what could create a lasting and enduring peace.”
But Cantor says, despite controversy over the settlements, Netanyahu was not unreasonable in his meeting with lawmakers about the issue of Jerusalem and said that it is understood there’s a difference between building in Israel and building in Jerusalem. “The issue of construction of Jerusalem is separate from the issue of settlement construction. This is a non-issue, it is not linked to the greater security in the region, and I think that it is an attempt by some in the region to continue to fan the flames, that is not helpful at all in terms of driving peace,” Cantor said.
But there are some in Cantor’s own party who go further than the Minority Whip and say that the administrations stand against Israel is “profoundly disappointing.” Indiana representative Mike Pence told reporters he’s amazed at how the Obama administration is handling Israel.
“I have been astonished at pronouncements by this administration. And again, it's been lost on many people that the settlements that were announced during the Vice President's visit are in a section of Jerusalem that has never been the subject of dispute, never,” Pence said.
Obama and Netanyahu have met a number of times since Obama took office. Tuesday’s meeting was the second of its kind behind closed doors, with no press coverage. It’s not lost on the media that the White House is not allowing press to cover the two leaders, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said there’s nothing to be made of the lack of coverage and that the two sides will have productive talks.
“Our goal in any of this is to create an atmosphere of trust and open dialogue to bring these two sides together so that the discussions can be substantive in moving towards comprehensive Middle Eastern peace,” Gibbs said Monday. Gibbs said Israel and the United States continue to work together, despite many reports that relations between the two nations that are on edge after the settlement building was announced while Vice President Biden was in Jerusalem. “I can tell you that they're not frayed and that our bond with the Israelis is strong."