Prime Minister Netanyahu's goal in coming to Washington next month is not to toughen the American bargaining position but to undercut it entirely. Barack Obama's has said “no deal is better than a bad deal” when it comes to nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Bibi made clear this week that his position is “no deal is better than any deal.”
The PM had hoped to help the Congressional leadership to rush through a tough new sanctions bill so that the he could return home on the even of his March 17 election and boast how he has more support in the US Congress than the President of the United States.
But once again his meddling in American partisan politics backfired, and the vote has been put off until after the Israeli elections and the March 24 target date for an agreement with Iran.
Netanyahu has already done considerable harm to the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus on Capitol Hill by making the secret speech arrangement with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to say nothing of damaging what little there is left to the prime minister's relations with the leader of his country's most important – and often only – ally.
Boehner admitted Sunday on Fox News he intentionally concealed the speech invitation from the White House to make sure it did not try to interfere. What's more he issued the invitation in the name of both Republicans and Democrats although he never told any Congressional Democrats about it either.
Many prominent Democrats – notably Vice President Joe Biden, several Jewish member of Congress and many membrs of the Congressional Black Caucus — have said they will not be attending Netanyahu’s speech.
As criticism of the speech grows here and in Israel, it looks like Bibi is ready to toss his erstwhile ally Beohner under the bus. One of the PM’s closest confidantes, deputy foreign minister Tzachi Hanegbi, has suggested that Boehner misled the prime minister into thinking the speech had been cleared with the Democrats, if not the White House.
If anyone misled Netanyahu, which is questionable, it was his protégé Ambassador Ron Dermer, a longtime partisan Republican operative before making aliya. He’s the one who brokered the deal and, Boehner said, knowingly participated in the scheme to keep it a secret from the administration so they could bindside the President.
If Netanyahu forms the next government he will have to move quickly to repair relations with the Obama administration, which will be around for another two years. A good start will be firing the ambassador who helped put him into this mess by brokering a highly partisan secret deal with Speaker Boehner for the congressional speech.
For more on the controversy, see my Washington Watch column.