Boehner off to Israel; Netanyahu’s ties to Obama hit new low
WASHINGTON (AP) — The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, is heading to Israel as already strained relations between the White House and newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit a new low this week.
On the surface, the Republican leader’s announcement Friday that he’ll visit Israel looks like a jab at the White House.
But a congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to publicly disclose details of the trip, insisted that Boehner’s trip — during the two-week congressional recess that begins March 30 — was planned before new rifts developed over Netanyahu’s address to Congress and the prime minister’s remarks this week about the peace process.
President Barack Obama bristled when Boehner invited Netanyahu to address U.S. lawmakers earlier this month about his fears that an emerging nuclear agreement would pave Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.
Relations took another hit Monday when Netanyahu made hard-line statements against the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Speaking on the eve of his re-election, Netanyahu said there could be no Palestinian state while regional violence and chaos persist — conditions that could rule out progress on the issue for many years. That ruffled the Obama administration, which views a two-state solution as a top foreign policy priority and had dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry for months of shuttle diplomacy in an effort to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that never materialized.
On Thursday, Netanyahu seemed to backtrack, saying in a TV interview that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood — if conditions in the region improve. Netanyahu told MSNBC that he hadn’t changed his policy and that he remained committed to the two-state vision he spelled out in a landmark 2009 speech.
Obama called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his re-election, but also told the Israeli leader that the U.S. is reassessing its approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace in light of his comments about a Palestinian state. A White House official said Obama also raised Netanyahu’s critical comments about Israeli Arabs ahead of the election, which the White House has denounced as a “cynical” effort to mobilize voters.
The White House, which hadn’t been consulted about the Republican invitation to Netanyahu, offered a terse response to Boehner’s travels, with spokesman Josh Earnest saying it was common for Republicans and Democrats to travel to Israel. “It doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody here,” he said.
Republicans have seized on the administration’s strained ties with Netanyahu.
Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican who wrote a letter signed by 46 other senators from his party that warned Iran that any deal could be scrapped by Obama’s successor, scolded administration officials for their handling of U.S.-Israel relations.
“In the last 48 hours, more anonymous administration officials have suggested a fundamental rethinking of the United States-Israel alliance, citing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s simple restatement of fact that there can be no Palestinian state until conditions change,” Cotton said.
“The Obama administration … has gone off the deep end and let their personal bitterness towards the Israeli prime minister drive their public foreign policy toward our closest ally.”