Jerusalem (CNN)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew the ire of both the White House and his political opponents this week when he accepted an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint meeting of Congress next month.
Netanyahu visit causes headaches at home and abroad
After seeing the openly hostile reaction from the Obama administration at the news, it is hardly surprising that Netanyahu's office has yet to confirm his visit to Washington. In rare undiplomatic language White House press secretary called the Israeli leader out for failing to consult with the White House before accepting the invite to speak.
Now it looks like Netanyahu will be coming later than expected. Boehner originally said Wednesday Netanyahu's address would be Feb. 11. But on Thursday Boehner tweeted that "at his request" Netanyahu has asked to delay his speech until March 3 in order to attend the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.
If the later date was either a concession to the White House or an attempt by Netanyahu to time the visit closer to the election for maximum wattage, it backfired.
Hours after Boehner announced the new date, the White House said President Barack Obama would not be meeting with Netanyahu because of "long-standing practice and principle," the President does not meet with leaders and candidates in close proximity to their elections "to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country."
The White House statement noted that the election is "just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress." Would Obama feign the same excuse had Netanyahu come on the original date -- a full month before the election? Probably not, but we may never know. But in the ongoing game of one-upmanship, the Obama administration just upped the ante.
In Washington the delay can be viewed a few ways. It could be taken at face value -- a way to kill two birds with one stone and attend both events in the same time frame. But more Machiavellian issues could also be at play.
The delay prevents Netanyahu from appearing before Congress as the Senate votes on a new set of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Given that Boehner's invite was extended hours after Obama in his State of the Union address threatened to veto such sanctions, a blistering critique by Netanyahu of the President's policy towards Iran would further ignite an the currently explosive relationship between the two leaders.
In Jerusalem the delay is viewed as pure chutzpah. Already seen by the left as maneuvering for a rubber stamp by the U.S. Congress before the March 17 Israeli election, Netanyahu now takes to the podium just two weeks before Israelis go to the polls.
If the 29 standing ovations he received during his last address to Congress is any indication, Netanyahu is guaranteed a tailor-made campaign photo opportunity symbolizing an idyllic relationship between the U.S. and Israel, despite the fact the relationship between the countries is facing a deep crisis. Opposition parties in Israel are crying foul and are circling petitions urging him not to speak before the election.
The new date also puts Netanyahu out in front closer to the March deadline for a framework political deal between Iran and world powers. A speech extolling the dangers Obama's policy toward Iran could harden positions on both sides and make it even harder to reach a deal.
Regardless of when he speaks, Netanyahu's speech inserts Israel into Obama's face-off with Congress over Iran and at the same time inserts the U.S. smack into the Israeli election. And should Netanyahu win reelection, it is likely to further jeopardize hopes for a better relationship with Obama and between the U.S. and Israel.