President Barack Obama has filled his slate of speakers for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference on March 1-3, 2015 he has decided to send national security adviser Susan Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power as the administration’s representatives. AIPAC announced the White House’s line-up on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. Obama was considering sending low-level administration officials to speak at the conference to demonstrate their anger for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to a joint session of Congress. Sending the national security advisor may be even worse, as she just spent an interview on PBS entirely criticizing Netanyahu’s motive for addressing Congress about Iran so close to the elections in Israel and making Israel relations with the US a partisan affair.
Rice just gave an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS on Tuesday, Feb. 24 where she heavily criticized Netanyahu and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH for organizing the address calling it “destructive” to US-Israel relations. Rice condemned what she believes is the partisan nature of Netanyahu’s address on March, also coming so close to Israel’s election which on March 17. Rice said, “What has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu, two weeks in advance of his election, is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship which is not only unfortunate; it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.”
For Rice the fact that solely the Congressional Republicans and the right leaning Netanyahu coordinated the address meant that it was an act of partisanship, and as she tried to explain, “The relationship between Israel as a country and the United States as a country has always been bipartisan. It’s always been bipartisan; we need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way, the Israeli people want it that way. When it becomes infused with politics that’s a problem.”
Netanyahu is facing harsh criticism from the White House and Congressional Democrats for his upcoming address and from political opponents in Israel and more liberal leaning American Jews. His motives are being criticized during what has been a tough and close campaign. Rice said she would not question his motives, “I’m not going to ascribe motives to the prime minister. Let him explain for himself. The point is we want the relationship between the United States and Israel to unquestionably be strong, immutable, regardless of political seasons in either country, regardless of which country maybe in charge in either country. We’ve worked very hard to have that and we will work very hard to maintain that.”
The national security advisor seemed more confident in Iran, than supposedly close and longtime ally Israel. Rice is giving Iran the benefit of the doubt about their nuclear program, fighting back on Netanyahu’s position on the Iranian threat, and of a bad deal. Rice explained the deal will prove itself over time, “They [the Iranians] are not going to be able to convince anybody on day one that they have stopped enrichment. They’re going to have to prove over time through their actions which will be validated that they are, in fact, upholding their commitments. Rice says that unlike Netanyahu’s accusations, Iran has not continued their program, “They have enabled us to validate that they have, in fact, taken all the steps that they committed to take and that they’re in full compliance. That model will need to be sustained in any comprehensive agreement. We’ll need to be able to see and test and verify that the commitments they’ve made are actually being implemented.”
Usually high-level administration officials speak at the Israel’s lobby annual conference, including Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State John Kerry and even Obama addressed the conference in 2012 when he needed to butter up Jewish voters be get reelected president. This year the White House was considering sending Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the administration highest level Jewish official and Obama’s favorite to send out to represent the administration at Jewish functions.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at the daily press briefing on Thursday that “the choice of administration representatives” to the conference was “consistent with the kind of administration participation we’ve seen in previous AIPAC conferences.” Because of the accusations in the press, that Obama was planning to undermine Netanyahu by sending less important officials to AIPAC, Earnest was sarcastic about partisanship coming into play with the US-Israel relationship. Earnest expressed, “If it is perceived by some as an effort to demonstrate bipartisan support for the relations of the United States and Israel, that would be great. That’s the kind of investment that has characterized this administration’s management of this relationship. Unfortunately, that’s not how everyone has invested in this relationship the past couple of weeks.”
Rice is not the only Obama administration official to roast the prime minister, Secretary of State John Kerry testified to House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 25 about the Iran deal and criticized Netanyahu past judgment on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the Iran interim agreement, where Kerry said Netanyahu had been wrong. “The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq.” Netanyahu “may have a judgment that just may not be correct here.” Strangely, Kerry seems to ignore the fact that as a Senator he too voted in favor of invading Iraq in 2003, which was huge part of the reason he lost the 2004 presidential election for the Democratic Party.
Kerry insisted that Netanyahu would also be wrong about the planned agreement with Iran, “The policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. And anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, well, we don’t like the deal, or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. There is no deal yet.” Kerry also mocked Netanyahu for being “extremely outspoken” and against the interim agreement now in place, and the he would like to see extended versus a permanent deal. Kerry stated, “I don’t know anybody who looks at the interim agreement and doesn’t say, wow, this has really worked – including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who would like to see it extended, having opposed it vehemently in the beginning, calling it the deal of the century for Iran.”
The administration’s opposition to Netanyahu position on Iran and his upcoming speech has only strengthened his resolve, and made him more adamant about addressing the dangers of allowing Iran to continue in any way their nuclear program with a long-term agreement. As Obama officials were roasting the Israeli prime minster he had a meeting with his Likud Party near Jerusalem, where Netanyahu again declared Israel’s “greatest challenge” as “the threat of Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons with a declared goal of annihilating us.”
He also accused the P5+1 nations and particularly the US of not caring enough to ensure that Iran has zero nuclear abilities in the long term agreement they are now working on, and where a framework deal has to be in place by the end of March, with a final deadline for June 30. Netanyahu observed, “From the agreement that is forming, it appears that they (world powers) have given up on that commitment (to thwart Iran) and are accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons. They might accept this but I am not willing to accept this. I respect the White House and the US president but on a serious subject, it’s my duty to do everything for Israel’s security.” Continuing, Netanyahu indicated, “Under the agreement that is being prepared, we have reason to worry… if the world powers have reached an agreement with Iran.”
Netanyahu, views Iran as Israel’s biggest threat, and intends to use his Congressional address to criticize the ongoing negotiations between the P5+1 nations, Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany with Iran about their nuclear weapons program, calling for a deal that only rids Iran of all its nuclear capabilities including all their centrifuges. A framework about a potential deal is supposed to be reached by the end of March. The Israeli prime minister is also planning to convince Congress that they should pass additional sanctions to pressure Iran into the best deal.
Congressional Democrats are mostly standing by President Obama and nearly 30 are boycotting the address, 23 representatives and four senators. As the date of the speech gets closer, almost every day another Democrat announces they will not attend. The strictly partisan war between the two parties is even seeing Jewish members of Congress objecting to the speech and some announcing they would not attend. At this, point there another 24 members that are considering skipping the speech. All the major Congressional leaders however, are planning to attend Netanyahu’s address.
Neither Biden nor Kerry are attending, with Biden set for a trip to Latin America about immigration. Kerry is also set to be out of the country, while Obama is not meeting with Netanyahu as well, using the diplomatic excuse, that it is too close to the Israel’s elections that he might be interfering in the outcome should he meet with Netanyahu and would he same with any American ally in the same position.
Both Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership and influential members are scheduled to address the AIPAC
conference including, “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R- CA), Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).” AIPAC is already sold out and will be having 16,000 activists in attendance including a majority from the House of Representatives and the Senate.