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Tags: John McCain | Eliot Engel | Dianne Feinstein | Obama | Netanyahu

Congressional Leaders Call for Obama to Make Amends with Netanyahu

Congressional Leaders Call for Obama to Make Amends with Netanyahu
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 19 March 2015 09:17 AM EDT

Now that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won re-election, it's time for President Barack Obama to reach out and make amends with him, lawmakers from both parties are saying.

Secretary of State John Kerry has called to congratulate Netanyahu, and a senior White House official congratulated the Israeli people "for the democratic process," reports The Hill, but Obama himself has not yet spoken to Netanyahu.

"The president should reach out to him," Sen. John McCain said Wednesday. "The president should say, 'OK, there are too many issues that are important to us.'"

But the Arizona Republican doesn't think that's going to happen, "just because of the way he has been behaving since the elections last November."

Relations have been strained for some time between the two world leaders and came to a boiling point when Netanyahu accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to address a joint session of Congress in a speech against making an agreement with Iran that would eventually allow that country to possess nuclear weapons.

Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu when he came to Washington for the speech, saying he has a "general policy" not to meet with world leaders when they are nearing an election. But also, he and Democrats were said to be angry because Boehner did not inform them that he'd invited the Israeli leader to speak.

And while many Democrats sided with Obama's opposition to the speech, saying Netanyahu was invited as a political maneuver, party leaders said Wednesday it's time to make a move toward reconciliation, if only for the good of the relationship between the United States and Israel.

"Now that he has been elected by the people in a free and fair election, the president should reach out to him," New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said. "My observation is that their disagreements are on policy as well as perhaps personality, and I would hope that both men would reach out to each other and work through it. ... The U.S.-Israel relationship is more important than the relationship between any two individuals."

California's Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, further agreed that "continuing to mend tensions in the U.S.-Israel relationship needs to be a priority for everyone, regardless of political affiliation ... I hope the new Israeli government can work toward that end."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama has waited in previous elections until the prime minister forms a new coalition government, but that he will call Netanyahu "in coming days."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, thinks it would be good for the two leaders to "bury some animosities and move forward," but he doesn't see that happening, as he believes Obama worked against Netanyahu's re-election. Former Obama field director Jeremy Bird worked closely with Victory 15, which is allied with Israel's Labor Party, toward defeating the prime minister.

In addition, Netanyahu's positions have shifted to a more hard-line outlook, reports The Associated Press. He now opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, going against a key policy goal of the White House and the international community. He also has promised to expand construction in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, the section of the city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital.

The conflicting policy views were what strained the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, but insiders say the conflict has also become personal.

And there are many questions remaining over whether Obama and Netanyahu will be able to come to some sort of agreement and understanding at all, reports The New York Times.

On Wednesday, the White House complained that Netanyahu had made statements against voting by Israeli Arabs, calling the prime minister's words an attempt to "marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens," and said they were not consistent with the kind of values binding the United States and Israel as allies.

Netanyahu's words were "deeply concerning and it is divisive, and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis," Earnest told reporters on Air Force One with Obama on Wednesday, reports The Times.

Netanyahu's turnaround on the Palestinian state issue will also likely result in the Obama administration agreeing to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution for a two-state solution, meaning that Israel may have to turn over some territory in exchange for keeping areas in the West Bank, a plan Netanyahu strongly opposes.

"The premise of our position internationally has been to support direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians," a senior White House official told The Times. "We are now in a reality where the Israeli government no longer supports direct negotiations. Therefore we clearly have to factor that into our decisions going forward."

And even though the relationship between the two countries would remain strong, it will likely be left up to Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as Pentagon officials, to deal with Netanyahu.

"The president is a pretty pragmatic person and if he felt it would be useful, he will certainly engage," a senior administration official, who asked not to be identified, said. "But he's not going to waste his time."

Even though their countries' leaders don't get along, that doesn't mean the United States is cutting off Israel.

The Middle Eastern ally will continue receiving more than $3 billion a year, mostly in military funding, and the military forces of the two countries will continue to work closely together. Further, the United States will most likely continue siding with Israel on an international level, foreign policy experts believe.

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Now that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won re-election, it's time for President Barack Obama to reach out and make amends with him, lawmakers from both parties are saying.
John McCain, Eliot Engel, Dianne Feinstein, Obama, Netanyahu
Thursday, 19 March 2015 09:17 AM
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