Both Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu made their cases to the American public and to Washington this week, and without doubt, the winner is the Israeli Prime Minister. Not only did Congress respond so enthusiastically to Netanyahu’s speech that they interrupted him more often for standing ovations than they did for Obama in his last SOTU speech, even Democrats on Capitol Hill are looking for ways to issue a rebuke to the President:
Senate Democrats are expected to support a resolution intended as a rebuff to President Obama’s call for basing Middle East peace talks on the 1967 Israeli-Palestinian borders.
It would be a rare rebuke of the president by the upper chamber and a sign that Democrats are worried about the impact of last week’s speech on the U.S.-Israel relationship and pro-Israel constituents.
Democrats in both chambers are scrambling to fix the damage caused when Obama called for the 1967 borders and land swaps as a basis for peace.
Some Democrats have tried to downplay the rift, but Israel’s strongest supporters in Congress say there’s no denying that Obama made a tactical mistake in handling the relationship.
Harry Reid already publicly rebuked Obama at AIPAC earlier this week, but the rest of his caucus apparently wants in on the action, too. Joe Lieberman has a draft resolution (co-sponsored by Orrin Hatch) that would not only reject the 1967 borders as indefensible for Israel, but also contrary to American national security. Ben Nelson (NE) and Ben Cardin (MD) quickly announced their support for the resolution’s draft language, while Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein both said they would decide after the language gets finalized.
The President left the US for a trip to Ireland and the UK convinced that he had resolved the controversy with his speech to AIPAC. What happened? Benjamin Netanyahu stuck around to address Congress, and turned the issue into a rout. As I explain in my column for The Week, the Israeli PM demonstrated his superior statesmanship by shaming Obama with kindness:
When Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress this week, he started the speech by congratulating President Barack Obama on killing Osama bin Laden. He bookended the speech by expressing his appreciation for Obama’s position that peace could not be imposed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The address was peppered with compliments to the American President, who was traveling through Ireland and the UK, and to the American people.
Yet the speech, and its reception, deftly shamed Barack Obama for his rush to show up Israel and pressure the US ally into concessions, and established the Israeli Prime Minister as the real statesman in the conflict. …
Instead of scolding and lecturing again, Netanyahu turned on the charm with Congress – and Congress responded. The Israeli deftly handled a protest in the gallery by noting that such dissent would never be tolerated in Tehran, allowing him a natural segue into a lengthy discourse about our common enemy in Iran. He lauded American support for Israel and the partnership that helps Israel secure its own nation without American military assistance. And Netanyahu took every opportunity to praise Obama while making it clear that the President had gone in exactly the wrong direction regarding the peace process.
That message resonated with Republicans and Democrats alike. Even before Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, members of Obama’s own party had openly opposed Obama’s explicit calls for a return to the 1967 border. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sharply criticized the imposition of terms outside of negotiation; he avoided using Obama’s name, but the message was clear.
As ABC News noted, Congress gave Netanyahu 29 standing ovations for a 40-minute speech, while Obama received 25 in a much longer State of the Union address. Obviously, with the rebuke floating in the Senate, the standing Os were more than just gracious hospitality. While Obama and his team committed one gaffe after another on his current junket, Netanyahu gave a tour de force performance that ended up making Obama look petty, radical, and unschooled. Democrats can’t abandon Obama quickly enough on his new peace initiative, which tells us all we need to know about who won this round.