Bibi’s Speech: Risks And Opportunities
Tue, 05/17/2011

With Israel confronting growing international isolation and a reckless Palestinian campaign to end-run direct negotiations at the United Nations in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces difficult challenges during his U.S. visit this week.

In particular, the prime minister’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday is both an opportunity and a risk.

If he makes a convincing case that his government is serious about finding new routes to direct negotiations despite Palestinian recalcitrance, and spells out in detail the steps he is willing to take, the beleaguered Jewish state may garner increased support. (That recalcitrance was highlighted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his Tuesday New York Times Op-Ed, a masterpiece of evasion and historical revisionism.)

It will be a risk if Netanyahu’s speech, at the invitation of the House Republican leadership, plays into partisan battles in this country over the Israel issue. The strength of the pro-Israel effort has always been its breadth and its bipartisan character, a fact the prime minister should keep in mind.

It is appropriate for Netanyahu to remind his audience that the new Hamas-Fatah unity agreement represents one more major obstacle to a negotiated settlement; it would be counterproductive to leave it at that, without making clear his vision for breaking the deepening stalemate.

Netanyahu also can strengthen his case by explaining in the clearest possible terms Israel’s response to the tidal wave of change sweeping across the Arab world. Israel has good reasons to be apprehensive about the overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and the ongoing unrest aimed at Syria’s Bashar Assad. Neither was a friend to the Jewish state but both kept the peace in ways that allowed Israel to focus on other threats.

But change is coming to the region, and Netanyahu needs to demonstrate to policymakers here — and to a nervous Jewish community — that his nation is prepared to meet it head on and continue to advocate for the cause of democracy even as it protects its own security.

There’s little question that relations between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are less than warm. The prime minister would be well advised to use his speech and his private meetings this week to reach out and signal his determination to find ways to work collaboratively with the Obama team, and not try to use Congress as a blocking back to resist any new administration initiatives in the region.

This country remains Israel’s strongest ally, but its diplomatic initiatives in the Mideast appear played out. If the prime minister believes, as he says, that a two-state solution is best for all concerned, he needs to advance that cause before the opportunity is lost.

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Lillith,
I can imagine the veins popping in your neck as you wrote your post.
I hope you've taken your blood pressure pills before you read my opinion because I am glad that Netanyahu presented a strong case for Israel before Congress. The numerous standing ovations he received clearly showed Congress' approval. You may want to rethink your argument about Israel's approval ratings among the American people. The Jewish state is, in fact, enjoying very high approval ratings. You should wish Obama's rating will be as favorable in 2012.

As an American, I am appauled by the nerve of Isreal's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to go behind the back of an American president - and plead his case directly Before Congress! We as Americans have befriended Isreal by giving the state Billions of our citizen's hard earned dollars, in addition to weapons of mass destruction to protect itself, and making many enemies in the Arab world, at our own paril. And today, Isreal slaps up in the face publicly, and push us in a corner, bashing our president and our nation for All the world to see! Netanyahu may have made a grave mistake in doing so, and have set in motion new relationship status between himself, Isreal and the American people. No European leader has overstepped these boundaries thus far in modern times, and I dare say that President Obama would never by-pass any nation's head of state and go directly to their congress to get what he wants. This shows that Isreal feels entitled to our money, power and has supreme authority over America, and has no regard for our customs and protocol. Netanyahu has severely underestimated the American people. No ethnic group should become so powerful as to think their group can literally take over the congress of America, and force their will on the American people. Bad move Netanyahu. Republican congressmen may be on your side, but even the Republican political leaders rely on citizens to remain in power!

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