I feel sorry for Netanyahu. After receiving applause and repeated standing ovations in one of the world’s most prominent venues, he now has to step down from the pedestal and face reality. After talking about saving the world from tyranny, Netanyahu has to make his way back to Israel and face those aggravating issues that simply refuse to go away. You know – those unimportant issues that his opponents are weirdly fixated upon, such as the ever rising cost of living, the Palestinian problem, the housing crisis, and the deteriorating health system.
I’m sure that if it was up to Netanyahu, he’d stay in Washington for the remaining two weeks until the elections. After all, there is no other parliament in the world where he’d receive such applause. Not even in the Israeli Knesset. Maybe Mrs. Netanyahu was right when she said in one of her famous claims glorifying her husband that he’d make a wonderful American President. He definitely knows how to speak American. But as destiny would have it, he’s merely the Prime Minister of Israel. How cruel and sad for him. And for us.
I have never claimed Netanyahu cannot talk. There has probably never been an Israeli politician who can speak as Netanyahu does, and yesterday’s speech was very good. The words were perfect, the mimics well timed and orchestrated. A real spectacle. But that was all it was.
Looking back in history, speeches have very rarely changed anything. In fact, they are only considered as being monumental and historic in nature when they precede or accompany action. In this case, there is no action. Netanyahu slammed the agreement with Iran without offering any alternative. On the day after the speech, we have to look beyond the theatrical appearance, and understand the short and long term repercussions.
The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than any two leaders, and it will likely outlast Obama and Netanyahu. International relations is all about cold political interests. As long as the U.S. has an interest in a stable island of democracy in the Middle East, there is no real chance of this relationship ending. But diplomatic relations can be warm or cold, and American administrations can be accommodating or less accommodating to the whims of Israeli leaders.
Israel doesn’t want the current deal with Iran to happen. Fine. Obama has announced his intention to use a presidential veto to pass through an agreement. Congress can cancel this veto with a two thirds majority, but to achieve this majority, most of the Democrats need to be aboard. Yet if Nancy Pelosi’s statement after the speech tells us anything, it’s that the Democrats won’t be jumping on the wagon against Obama so quickly:
That is why, as one who values the U.S. – Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.
So Netanyahu’s speech, supposedly aimed at influencing Congress to object to the deal being negotiated with Iran, might have actually achieved the opposite by closing in the Democratic ranks around Obama, humiliating the presidency, and for the first time endangering bipartisan support for Israel.
The deal with Iran, at least the details we know about it, is bad for Israel. Israel’s position was articulated perfectly by Netanyahu yesterday in Congress, but it would have been twenty times more effective if it was outlined in private, behind closed doors, in front of Obama. But Netanyahu, by being more Republican than most Republicans are, did his best to render this option impossible. Meddling in American politics by openly backing Mitt Romney’s nomination in 2013, allowing Defense Minister Ya’alon to bad mouth Secretary of State Kerry, and now slamming the administration over Iran – Netanyahu has made sure he won’t see the inside of the White House until the end of Obama’s presidency. This is the real cost of Netanyahu’s speech.
But hey, a burnt relationship with an American president is a small price to pay for 1-2 extra mandates.