Did the White House engineer the flap over Bibi's invite?

Some interesting speculation, grounded in facts, from David Bernstein writing in the Washington Post. It appears that the White House engineered a controversy over the invitation from Speaker Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by claiming the invite violated "protocol" because the Israeli PM didn't inform the White House he was coming.

At issue is the timing of the invite. Boehner notififed the White House he was going to invite Bibi and a few hours later Netanyahu accepted - without first telling Washington. The administration twisted this admittedly questionable sequence by first claiming that Boehner never informed them of the invite, and the when that was exposed as a lie, came down on Bibi for his not following diplomatic procedures.

The bottom line, as Bernstein notes and as AT's Ed Lasky pointed out in his article on January 31,what happened with the invitation was not dissimilar to circumstances surrounding the 2011 invite from Boehner to Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress. And that invitation was not challenged by the White House at all.

All this raises the issue of why the Obama Administration chose to turn this incident into a diplomatic brouhaha. On the one hand, a foreign leader planning a visit without prior coordination with the State Department is surely unusual. On the other hand, over at American Thinker, Ed Lasky notes that a visit like this is not exactly unprecedented: “In 2011, Boehner sent a notice to the WH stating his intention to invite Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress. The White House never responded (spite? incompetence?) and Boehner proceeded to extend the invitation to Netanyahu. Netanyahu accepted the invitation and spoke. The White House did not express any outrage in 2011.”  The invitation letter, meanwhile, said the invitation was “on behalf of the the bipartisan leadership of the US House and US Senate”, suggesting that the Israelis may have been misinformed regarding the extent to which the Democratic Congressional leadership was on board (and if they were on board, surely the White House would have known about it).

When informed of Boehner’s invitation, the White House publicly took a “wait and see” attitude, rather than announcing its opposition. According to Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, once  the White House knew about the invitation, the Israeli government (contra Cohen and others) was in contact with U.S. government officials, in both Washington and Jerusalem. It doesn’t appear that the White House conveyed to Netanyahu that the president expected him to decline the invitation.

So we have two different narratives here.  The Israeli narrative is that Boehner, on behalf of a bipartisan Congress (as the Israelis claim they sincerely believed), invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu had done so before under similar circumstances, without White House objection. The invitation had been conveyed informally to Netanyahu weeks before it was publicly announced, and the Israelis figured, based on what Boehner himself told them, that it was Boehner’s job to decide when and how inform the White House that a formal invitation was pending.  Once Boehner did so, Netanyahu having heard no objection from the White House beyond concern that the invitation had breached diplomatic protocol (which would seem to be primarily Boehner’s sin), went ahead and accepted it.

The White House is making no secret of its contempt for Netanyahu or their desire to see him defeated in the elections next month. Bibi refuses to worship at the altar of Obama and has consistently rejected the president's pro-Palestinian views on the peace process. Obama believes that Bibi has rubbed his nose in the settlement issue and undermined his negotiations with Iran.

But it is on Iran that Netanyahu is apparently willing to risk his political career and relations with Washington. The Israeli prime minister sincerely believes that Obama's naivete about Iranian nuclear intentions is threatening the existence of Israel and is coming to Washington to make a final appeal to prevent the US from making a huge strategic error by signing an agreement with Tehran.

My guess is that 2/3 of Democrats won't show up for the speech. So be it. Netanyahu is seeking an audience far beyond Washington and the American people will almost certainly hear him out.

Hat Tip: Rich Baehr


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