President Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his planned trip to Washington in March, according to the White House.
The declaration came just one day after Republicans announced their invitation for Netanyahu to address a joint session in Congress. GOP leaders reportedly reached out to the Israeli leader without consulting either the White House or the State Department, a move that will most likely deepen the tense relations that already exists between the White House and Congress, as well as the tense relationship between the White House and Netanyahu himself, according to the Huffington Post.
As Yahoo! News reports, the visit raises many difficulties.
“Netanyahu’s visit has further strained already difficult relations between the Israeli leader and Obama. Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress for the express purpose of challenging the president’s approach to Islamist extremism and negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. The White House, which found out about the visit from Boehner’s office, accused Israel of breaching diplomatic protocol under which foreign leaders advise host leaders of pending visits.”
Despite already tense relations, spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that Obama’s decision not to meet with Netanyahu is in keeping with “long-standing practice and principle.” The president does not meet with heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, and Netanyahu’s March 3 visit will be within two weeks of Israel’s election.
“Accordingly, the president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress,” Meehan said.
A visit to the United States will be something of a political gain for Netanyahu, who is in a tough battle to win re-election against Yitzhak Herzog, a member of the Labor Party, which has been outspoken in their concern over the growing tension in Israel’s critical relationship with the United States. In fact, in wake of Congress’s surprise invitation to Netanyahu, some Israelis think that the Democrats in Congress should invite Herzog to address Congress, as well, claiming it is a matter of fairness.
Netanyahu is expected to push for additional sanctions on Iran, which is in direct opposition to what Obama said in his recent State of the Union address. Obama has been urging Republicans, as well as some Democrats, to hold off on further sanctions against Iran while the U.S. and other international partners are in the middle of nuclear negotiations with the Islamic republic. British Prime Minister David Cameron has been making similar arguments to the U.S. Congress.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough explains that the nuclear negotiations are at a “delicate phase.”
“We ought to give some time and space for that to work,” McDonough says.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was inappropriate for colleague John Boehner to invite Netanyahu to address Congress, with the Israel election just two weeks after his address, because she believes it gives the appearance of endorsing the prime minister.
“If that’s the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election, right in the midst of our negotiations, I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful,” Pelosi said.
For more on John Boehner’s call for Netanyahu to address Congress, click here.
[Image via the Guardian]