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Netanyahu Heads to US Amid Turmoil     07/22 06:15

   

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for 
Washington on Monday, leaving behind a brutal war to make a politically 
precarious speech before the U.S. Congress at a time of great uncertainty 
following Joe Biden's withdrawal from the presidential race.

   With efforts ongoing to bring about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, 
rising concerns about the war spreading to Lebanon and Yemen, and the U.S. in 
the midst of a dizzying election campaign, Netanyahu's speech has the potential 
to cause disarray on both sides of the ocean.

   The risks only increased with Biden's decision Sunday to drop out of the 
race for president, especially since the choice of a replacement Democratic 
nominee -- and the potential next American leader -- are still up in the air.

   Before stepping on the plane, Netanyahu said he would emphasize the theme of 
Israel's bipartisanship in his speech and said Israel would remain America's 
key ally in the Middle East "regardless who the American people choose as their 
next president."

   "In this time of war and uncertainty, it's important that Israel's enemies 
know that America and Israel stand together," he said, adding that he will meet 
Biden during his trip and thank him for his support for Israel.

   A person familiar with Biden's schedule confirmed Sunday that the president 
will host Netanyahu at the White House. The official, speaking on condition of 
anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said the exact 
timing of the meeting has not been established because Biden is recovering from 
COVID-19.

   Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on Wednesday. He is also expected 
to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is seeking the Democratic 
Party's presidential nomination.

   Netanyahu will deliver his congressional address with an eye on several 
audiences: his ultranationalist governing partners, the key to his political 
survival; the Biden administration, which Netanyahu counts on for diplomatic 
and military support; and Donald Trump's Republican Party, which could offer 
Netanyahu a reset in relations if he is reelected in November.

   His words risk angering any one of those constituencies, which the Israeli 
leader cannot afford if he hopes to hold on to his tenuous grip on power.

   "There are a few land mines and pitfalls on this trip," Eytan Gilboa, an 
expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, said before 
Biden's withdrawal. "He is thought of as a political wizard who knows how to 
escape from traps. I am not sure he still knows how to do that."

   It is Netanyahu's fourth speech to Congress -- more than any other world 
leader. During his address, his far-right governing partners will want to hear 
his resolve to continue the war and topple Hamas.

   The Biden administration will look for progress toward the latest 
U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal and details on a postwar vision. Republicans 
hope Netanyahu besmirches Biden and bolsters the GOP's hoped-for perception as 
Israel's stalwart supporter.

   The war, which was sparked by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has 
tested Israel's ties with its top ally as never before.

   The Biden administration has stood staunchly beside Israel. But it has grown 
increasingly alarmed about the conduct of the Israeli military, the continued 
difficulties of getting humanitarian aid into Gaza, especially after the 
short-lived U.S. military pier off Gaza coast, as well as Israel's lack of 
postwar plans and the harm to civilians in Gaza. Similar concerns will likely 
persist if Americans elect a new Democratic president.

   Biden earlier this year froze the delivery of certain bombs over fears they 
would be used in Israel's incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which 
at the time sheltered more than half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million.

   The U.S. abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote in March that 
called for a cease-fire and the release of hostages but did not link the two. 
Netanyahu called the decision a "retreat" from a "principled position" by 
Israel's ally.

   Biden has had to walk a fine line of his own. He has faced harsh criticism 
from progressive Democrats and many Arab Americans. Even Senate Majority Leader 
Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking elected U.S. Jewish official, lambasted 
Netanyahu in March for his handling of the war.

   Some Democrats will likely demonstrate their anger toward Biden and 
Netanyahu by skipping Wednesday's speech. Netanyahu is also likely to be 
hounded by pro-Palestinian activists during his trip.

   The last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress in 2015 was at the invitation of 
the Republican Party. The trip drove Israeli-American politics deep into the 
partisan divide as Netanyahu railed against then-President Barack Obama's Iran 
nuclear deal.

   Netanyahu has not shied away from making Israel a partisan issue. With his 
nationalist conservative ideology, he has been perceived as throwing his 
support behind Republican candidates in the past, rankling Democrats and 
Israelis who want to keep the U.S.-Israel relationship bipartisan.

   It's unclear if he will meet Trump. If there is a meeting, it could expose 
Netanyahu to accusations that he is once again taking sides. But if he doesn't 
meet with Trump, the former president could feel slighted.

   The speech also offers Netanyahu opportunity. He will be able to show 
Israelis that despite the tensions with the Biden administration, U.S. support 
for him remains ironclad.

   "He wants the Israeli public to believe that he is very much still very 
welcome in the United States. And this shows that the American people are with 
him," said David Makovsky, director of the program on Arab-Israel Relations at 
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

   For critics of Netanyahu, that embrace is unacceptable and grants legitimacy 
to a deeply polarizing leader whose public support has plummeted. Netanyahu 
faces widespread protests and calls to resign over the failures of Oct. 7 and 
his handling of the war.

   In a letter to Congress, 500 Israeli writers, scholars and public figures 
expressed their dismay over the invitation to Netanyahu, saying he will use the 
platform to advance misguided policies that align with his far-right governing 
partners.

   "His only interest is preserving his own power," they wrote. "Does the 
United States Congress wish to support such a model of cynical and manipulative 
leadership in these times?"

   Israeli media reported that Netanyahu will be joined by rescued hostage Noa 
Argamani and her father. But for many of the families of hostages held in Gaza, 
the trip is an affront.

   "This is not the time for trips," Ayelet Levy Shachar, whose daughter Naama 
was kidnapped on Oct. 7, told reporters.

   "Netanyahu: First a deal, then you can travel."

 
 
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