Why Netanyahu's Grandstanding to Congress Will Irreversibly Damage Israel

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Ben Cohen
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U.S. President Obama and Israel's Prime

Benjamin Netanyahu will speak before a joint session of Congress next week after being invited by House Speaker John Boehner. Netanyahu will use the occasion to bang the drums for a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program and shame the Obama administration for negotiating rather than dictating terms for an agreement.

To say that the White House is pissed off about this would be a huge understatement. The Obama Administration has been delicately negotiating terms for an agreement that looks close to being done, despite Netanyahu doing his utmost to wreck the talks and force a confrontation. So irritated is the White House that today National Security Advisor Susan Rice called Netanyahu's visit "destructive to the fabric of the [US-Israeli] relationship". This marks a step up in the language being used by White House publicly, and an all time low in US-Israeli relations.

In 2011, Obama was famously overheard on an open mic telling then French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "You're fed up with him [Netanyahu]? I have to deal with him every day."

Fast forward to 2015 and Obama is refusing to even meet with Netanyahu. This should come as no surprise given the Israeli prime ministers is coming onto US soil specifically to embarrass him.

The problem with Netanyahu's belligerence isn't just that it is massively offensive, but it is tactically stupid and detrimental to Israel in the long run. Netanyahu has made it abundantly clear that he regards Obama as a non-entity and someone he can't do business with. He overtly threw his support behind Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, gambling that the GOP's most inoffensive candidate would beat the man he believed didn't have what it took to be the President.

His continued underestimation of Obama has cost him dearly, yet he still seems to believe he can bully the American President and get what he wants. Obama has become better and better at dealing with Netanyahu with an incredibly simple strategy: he doesn't deal with him at all. Writes Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy:

He’s [Obama] letting Netanyahu do pretty much whatever he wants — including pummeling Gaza to no real purpose — even when these actions damage Israel’s legitimacy and hasten the arrival of the one-state solution that most Israelis oppose. In other words, Obama seems increasingly willing to watch Israel drive itself off a cliff...

Netanyahu thrives on conflict. His extreme right wing politics become relevant during confrontations, so to maintain his legitimacy he continuously creates them. This works when getting elected in Israel given its perpetual state of conflict with neighboring countries (Netanyahu has come back strongly from a free falling approval ratings going into the elections next month), but the strategy is inherently flawed.

Netanyahu's continued aggression makes him politically toxic to the left in America, who broadly support Israel but are increasingly alarmed at the violence doled out to the hapless Palestinians and the Jewish state's overt colonization of Palestinian land. Netanyahu doesn't seem to be aware of the fact that while Republicans can win votes on a local level, they are doomed in Presidential elections given the extreme factions that exist within the party. Mitt Romney did about as well as he could given the wide spectrum of Republicans he had to get on board (from Tea Party extremists to religious fundamentalists and moderates), but he never really had a chance.

With the line up emerging for 2016 and an America public fed up with widening inequality and regressive social politics, it doesn't look good for the GOP candidates. That means Netanyahu most likely won't have an ally in the White House for at least the next 6 years (and that's if he survives the Israeli election in March).

US policy makers are becoming far wiser to the fact that Netanyahu's vision for the Middle East runs contrary to US interests in the region. Netanyahu, much like his good friend John McCain, is all war, all the time. It is widely acknowledged that Netanyahu is not interested in peace, and never has been. Former Israeli Security Agency head Yuval Diskin said of Netanyahu back in 2012:

Forget the stories they tell you about how Abbas is not interested in negotiation...We are not talking to the Palestinians because this government has no interest in negotiations.... I was there up to a year ago and I know from up-close what is happening. This government is not interested in solving anything with the Palestinians, and I say this certainty.

For Netanyahu, this continued state of war is vital to his own political survival, no matter the cost to US- Israeli relations or to the state of Israel itself. By speaking in front of Congress, he will insult the President and embarrass himself. Netanyahu doesn't care though, because it may well help him win the election. But as the US continues to distances itself from his country and allows him to attack his neighbors at will, it is the Israeli public who will bear the brunt of this. Israel cannot survive without political cover from the US indefinitely, and given the international community's continued condemnation of its behavior, it will soon find itself even more isolated than before.

It should also be remembered that Israel's security is deeply reliant on US funding, and should Netanyahu continue to hijack US foreign policy, Israel will soon find out who really is in charge.