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Congress invites Netanyahu to rebut Obama on Iran, and White House slams "breach of protocol"

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Reprinted from Mondoweiss


Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech to Congress, May 24, 2011
(Image by (Photo: Avi Ochayon/GPO))
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Israel was down to one mention in last night's stirring and progressive State of the Union Speech, and Palestine didn't even get a name-check. Two states living peacefully side by side? Nope; President Obama seems to be walking away from the futile peace process.

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Israel came up in the context of the big political battle Obama faces, Iran sanctions. Last night he vowed to veto any new sanctions bill. Few people would have known just what was at stake as the president made that declaration, saying the American people want him to talk to Iran, not go to war:

"Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies -- including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails -- alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn't make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom."

Obama was warning the Israel lobby; bug out of these negotiations. That's the line he drew in the sand in the New York Times last week, criticizing donor pressure on Democratic senators.

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Well, Congress has responded. This morning it invited Netanyahu to speak to a joint session in the House chamber on February 11 -- a month before the Israeli elections (as Haaretz noted).

House Speaker John Boehner's statement on the invite plays off of the Paris murders, and grants Netanyahu an authority he doesn't seem to grant Obama:

"'Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people,' Boehner said. 'In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.'"

The Hill reports the invitation as a direct rebuke to Obama's Iran policy:

"Boehner cast Netanyahu's address scheduled for Feb. 11 as being intended to rebuke to Obama's negotiations with Iran on that country's nuclear program...

"[T]he president 'expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran' [Boehner said]....

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"'Two words: 'Hell no! ... we're going to do no such thing,' Boehner said."

Haaretz says the White House's Josh Earnest "criticizes Netanyahu's planned trip to U.S., calling it 'departure from protocol.'"

"Such invitations are usually made leader to leader."

AP reports that Earnest calls it a "breach of protocol."

Boehner's actual invitation sent out this morning says Netanyahu is being invited by the "bipartisan leadership" of the Senate and House. Says Scott McConnell of Netanyahu's visit to Congress: "The only question will be how many standing ovations will he receive? I think he had 29 last time around. Should we set up a betting pool on it?"

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Philip Weiss is a longtime writer and journalist in New York. He co-edits a website on Israel/Palestine, Mondoweiss.net, which he founded in order to foster the movement for greater fairness and justice for Palestinians in American foreign policy. He is currently working on a novel about the US in Australia during WW2.

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