Former US diplomat: Netanyahu's visit a political risk
Posted March 2, 2015
Updated March 3, 2015
Durham, N.C. — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking a risk by visiting the United States just weeks before elections in his own country, a former U.S. diplomat told students at Duke University Monday night.
“Now he has to bear the burden and responsibility for separating Republicans and a significant number of Democrats, in the bi-partisan support that Israel usually enjoys,” Thomas Pickering said.
Pickering, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Israel and three other countries, spoke at the Sanford School of Public Policy in a speech titled “The Greater Middle East – Challenges and Opportunities.” The talk was sponsored by the Rudnick Endowment, the Duke Center for Jewish Studies and the Sanford School of Public Policy.
His comments came as Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday, a speech that comes amid tensions between Israel and its biggest ally, the United States, regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama is open to a diplomatic resolution with Iran, including freezing its nuclear program for at least a decade, but Israel, which considers Iran its enemy, fears any deal will eventually pose a danger to Israel and other countries.
“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them,” said Netanyahu, according to news reports, while speaking at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday. “For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless.”
Tensions between Obama and Netanyahu come as negotiations between the United States and Iran resumed on Monday.
Netanyahu’s ‘all or nothing’ approach regarding Iran is not in the best interest of the United States, Pickering said.
“I believe there is a way to permit some level of continued uranium enrichment, under monitoring and inspection, which would provide a secure enough firewall…that we can live with,” he said.
The current rift between the United States and Israel is the latest in a series of disagreements between the two countriessince Obama and Netanyahu both took office in 2009, including differences of opinion regarding Mideast peace talks and Israeli settlements.
Tensions recently grew after House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak on Tuesday without notifying the White House. It is a breach of diplomatic protocol for world leaders not to contact the White House before visiting the United States, officials said.
Obama has said he will not meet with Netanyahu so to not influence upcoming Israeli elections.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Tuesday’s speech, according to news reports, has "injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate. I think it's destructive of the fabric of the relationship."
Netanyahu, in his speech on Monday, downplayed those assertions.
“The last thing anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that,” he said, according to news reports. “Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”
Pickering described Netanyahu’s visit as ‘politics at play.’
“President Obama was perfectly correct when he said it's not our role, or our place to be co-opted, into the Israeli election process, and it's a mistake to try,” he said.