Netanyahu Attempts to Patch Rifts With Progressives

After the Iran deal, the Israeil leader tries to stress shared values with the Left at the Center for American Progress.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Center for American Progress in Washington on Tuesday.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Eric Garcia
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Eric Garcia
Nov. 10, 2015, 7:49 p.m.

With the Ir­an nuc­le­ar agree­ment es­sen­tially a done deal, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu came to the United States—and the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress—hop­ing to re­pair re­la­tion­ships with Demo­crats and lib­er­als.

As part of a Wash­ing­ton jaunt that also in­cluded meet­ing with Pres­id­ent Obama, with whom he has had a tense re­la­tion­ship, Net­an­yahu earned some pos­it­ive feed­back at the de­cidedly left-wing think tank.

“While we have dis­agreed on some is­sues, in­clud­ing the Ir­an nuc­le­ar deal,” said Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress Pres­id­ent Neera Tanden, “we also be­lieve deeply that the U.S.-Is­rael re­la­tion­ship is vi­tal.”

Net­an­yahu ac­know­ledged the dis­agree­ment over Ir­an but also said he and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion have no dis­agree­ment about the fu­ture, in­clud­ing “hold­ing Ir­an’s feet to the fire” by mak­ing sure the coun­try lives up to its ob­lig­a­tions.

“His only com­ments on Ir­an were pos­it­ive,” Greg Rosen­baum, chair­man of the Na­tion­al Jew­ish Demo­crat­ic Coun­cil, told the press af­ter­wards. “He didn’t threaten to do everything to un­der­mine the deal.”

When asked by Tanden about the fu­ture of Is­rael and wheth­er it would con­tin­ue to con­trol Ga­za and oc­cupy the West Bank, Net­an­yahu stressed the need for a Palestini­an state that is not com­mit­ted to Is­rael’s de­struc­tion and that there be an Is­raeli se­cur­ity pres­ence in case a Palestini­an state is taken over by ex­trem­ists.

The White House has seemed to ac­know­ledge that peace pro­spects are dim for Obama’s term in of­fice. Last week, an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the White House re­cog­nized that the pro­spect for two-state solu­tion is “not in the cards in the time that’s re­main­ing.”

Dan Sha­piro, U.S. am­bas­sad­or to Is­rael, who at­ten­ded the Net­an­yahu event, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tin­ue to ad­voc­ate for a two-state solu­tion.

“But we re­cog­nize that it may be dif­fi­cult to achieve in the near term,” Sha­piro told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “There­fore, we look to all parties—Is­rael­is, Palestini­ans, and oth­ers—to take steps on the ground that can at least point in the dir­ec­tion of that trans­ition.”  

All of the sen­at­ors who sup­por­ted the Ir­an nuc­le­ar deal were Demo­crats, and a num­ber of Demo­crat­ic law­makers—angered that then-House Speak­er John Boehner had in­vited Net­an­yahu to make a joint ad­dress to Con­gress without con­sult­ing with the White House— skipped his speech earli­er this year.

Still, Net­an­yahu stressed Tues­day that he wanted sup­port for Is­rael to be a sen­ti­ment that tran­scends par­tis­an­ship in the U.S.

“I think it is vi­tal for me that Is­rael re­main an is­sue of bi­par­tis­an con­sensus,” he said in his open­ing state­ments. When he could, Net­an­yahu at­temp­ted to high­light areas where pro­gress­ives might ap­plaud Is­rael, such as wo­men’s rights and gay rights, and con­tras­ted that with Ir­an’s treat­ment of LGBT people.

Matt Duss, pres­id­ent of the Found­a­tion for Middle East Peace, who was once a policy ana­lyst at CAP, said it is clear what Net­an­yahu’s goal was in ad­dress­ing the or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“It’s to kind of demon­strate to Is­raeli voters that, des­pite the fact that he had been work­ing against Pres­id­ent Obama’s agenda quite openly and that he had been cri­ti­cized for un­der­min­ing the U.S.-Is­rael re­la­tion­ship, this is his way of show­ing that it’s all fine,” Duss told Na­tion­al Journ­al be­fore the event.

Former Obama ad­viser Dav­id Axel­rod, who also at­ten­ded, praised Net­an­yahu for speak­ing to the or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“The fact is there’s al­ways been a broad Amer­ic­an con­sensus and sup­port for Is­rael,” Axel­rod told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “I don’t think con­cerns are re­solved in one vis­it, but I strongly dis­agree with the no­tion that there shouldn’t be dia­logue.”

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