"When I entered the Prime Minister's office for my second term, I was summoned to Washington. 'Not one brick', they told me...The pressure from the international community and the Americans was enormous...And still, after five years on the job, we built a little more than 'one brick'...the important thing is to do it in a smart way...to stand up to international pressure by maneuvering...we continue to head straight toward our goal, even if one time we walk right and another time we walk left."
Benjamin Netanyahu, 2014
"I know what America is. America is a thing that can be easily moved in the right direction. They will not bother us. Let's suppose they will say something...so they say it?...We have such support there!".
Benjamin Netanyahu, 2001
For over two decades, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been playing us for fools—a role we have filled to the detriment of our national honor and the cause of peace.
His entire political career has been focused on demonstrating to Israelis that he could "move [America] very easily"—and, on too many occasions, he has done just that. Since his first election as Prime Minister in 1996, he has been proud of his ability to get away with defying American presidents, while paying no price for his defiance.
His successes, in large measure, have been due the ties he has built with Republicans in Congress, using them to counter peace-making efforts led by two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
After the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Netanyahu went into action. Together with a small group of Likudniks, he launched a lobbying campaign against Oslo. Weekly faxes were sent to Congressional offices warning of the dangers that peace with the Palestinians posed for Israel and providing talking points that some Members of Congress followed. It was unprecedented—an Israeli opposition party acting against their government lobbying the US Congress to turn against the policy of our government. The effort won allies among Republicans in Congress who were only too happy to place obstacles in Bill Clinton's way. When the GOP won control of Congress in 1994 and Netanyahu won the Israeli elections in 1996, he was in a perfect position to accomplish his goal of ending the Oslo Accords.
The Gingrich-controlled Congress invited Netanyahu to speak to a Joint Session. He used the opportunity to attack the peace process and to call on Congress to join him on a war footing against Iraq and Iran. Throughout the rest of his first term, Netanyahu defied pressure from the Administration to curtail settlement construction and to make a serious commitment to peace. He knew that Congress would "have his back".
Even when President Clinton did force the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians, Netanyahu never fully implemented the agreement they concluded. And when Clinton vigorously objected to Netanyahu's plans to construct a new colony between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Netanyahu defiantly broke ground erecting Har Homa—a settlement that now houses almost 20,000 Israelis.
President Obama's aspirations to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace, were also frustrated by Netanyahu, whose second election as Israeli Prime Minister coincided with Obama's entry to the White House. After two frustrating years, Obama put the process on hold.
In 2010, Republicans again won control of Congress and their new leadership once again invited Netanyahu to speak to a Joint Session of Congress. The Israeli used this appearance to rebuke Obama's call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on "the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps". In the face of Israeli intransigence and Congressional pressure, once again the Administration shelved peace-making, until after the 2012 elections.
Secretary of State John Kerry's ill-fated effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were eclipsed by the disastrous and deadly Syrian conflict and the effort to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran—a deal which Netanyahu was determined to stymie. And so, when the Republican-led Congress invited Netanyahu to deliver his third address to a Joint Session, he used this appearance to call on Congress to block the Administration's support for the P5+1 deal with Iran.
Netanyahu's Washington performances have been focused on two audiences. He sought to muster the support of his Republican allies to defeat the work of Democratic Presidents, while at the same time seeking to demonstrate to his Israeli supporters how "very easily" he could "move America in the right direction".
While his first two efforts were a success, he failed with the third. Not only was he unable to block the Iran deal, but his gambit exposed a partisan divide over support for his policies, leaving Israelis uncomfortable about Netanyahu's ability to manage their relationship with the United States.
When he comes to Washington next week, Netanyahu is a man on a mission. His mission? To make it clear to Israelis that he is still the "master" of America. Unfortunately, Democrats and Republicans, alike, will serve as his enablers.
Netanyahu will meet with the President. This time there will be no real pressure to stop settlements and make peace. Instead, we are told that Israel is in line to receive a dramatic increase in US aid—possibly as high as $4.5 Billion a year. Netanyahu will then be honored at an event hosted by the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute. And in order to reassure to Israelis that the "master" can still dominate US politics, the Prime Minister wrangled a speaking engagement at the liberal Center for American Progress and secured a glowing op-ed written by Hillary Clinton who pledged that, if elected president, she "would reaffirm [the] unbreakable bond with Israel—and Benjamin Netanyahu."
The entire exercise is shameful and distressing. Enabling Netanyahu's bad behavior only encourages more of the same. It's embarrassing and it's dumb. It's one thing to acknowledge that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is dead, but it makes no sense to reward the guy who two decades ago pledged to kill peace, and then spared no effort to do just that.