U.S.-Israel spat getting more serious

The quarreling between the United States and Israel has me conflicted on a couple of levels … maybe even more of them.

First, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech next week before a joint congressional session should not occur. He accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner that was a serious breach of longstanding diplomatic protocol; Boehner extended the invitation without consulting with the president and the White House. President Obama is rightfully ticked off at the speaker for extending the invitation and is angry at the prime minister for accepting it.


Second, Netanyahu plans to lobby Congress to impose more sanctions on Iran while that country is negotiating a potential end to its nuclear program development. Obama has said repeatedly that Iran must not develop nuclear weapons and has vowed to keep Iran from obtaining them. He’s seeking a negotiated settlement to that end. Netanyahu and Boehner are trying to undermine that effort. Bad call, Bibi and Mr. Speaker.

Third, a growing number of Democratic lawmakers are planning to boycott the speech next week. That, too, is a bad call. As much as I oppose the invitation and the proposed contend of the prime minister’s speech, I think it’s bad form for U.S lawmakers to stay away. Hear the prime minister out, extend your hand, give him the respect that a visiting head of government deserves.

I understand Netanyahu’s angst regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Islamic Republic of Iran has declared its intention to wipe Israel off the map. The Israelis, of course, don’t want that to occur. Israel’s standing as the chief U.S. ally in the Middle East gives the Israelis a unique place.

However, Netanyahu and Boehner broke with diplomatic decorum — and don’t for an instant underestimate its importance — with this invitation and the manner in which it was offered.

The worst aspect of it is the effect it might have on sensitive negotiations that well could produce a safer Middle East.

There’s some word of a possible deal in the works that would put the clamps on nuclear development for at least 10 years; then there could be a gradual easing of restrictions. The “easing” part is troublesome, but the international community can remain on high alert in the years ahead to any notion that Iran might be kick-starting its ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

My hope is that the fiery rhetoric coming out of Washington and Jerusalem can be tempered. The two nations remain bound together by many more common interests than differences. Obama and Netanyahu have affirmed as much many times during their sometimes-testy relationship.

Who knows? Maybe Netanyahu’s speech before Congress next week can be reworked and dialed back to recognize the importance of the negotiations that seek to end Iran’s nuclear program.

Shall we hope for the best?

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