It sounds like the plot from a teenage high school drama – but this is drama playing out on the global stage, possibly damaging the relationship between the U.S. and one of its most important allies, Israel.
The tension revolves around the invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to Israel’s Prime Minister to address the U.S. Congress, one that he accepted. The White House is now saying this was a breach of protocol and Israel’s Ambassador is pointing the finger at Boehner.
Boehner’s office said he made it clear to Israeli Amb. Ron Dermer that “it was his (Boehner’s) prerogative to inform the White House,” and Dermer has said multiple times that is what he was led to believe.
“It was the speaker’s responsibility and normal protocol for the Speaker’s office to notify the administration of the invitation,” Dermer told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on Friday.
The White House was first notified of this invitation on the morning of Jan. 21, by Boehner, almost two weeks after he first asked Dermer if Netanyahu might be interested. In response to this initial request, Boehner was informed that the Prime Minister was open in principle to an invitation.
The day before the announcement, on the day of the President’s State of the Union speech, Secretary of State John Kerry had a lengthy meeting with Dermer, where Dermer never mentioned it.
While U.S. officials are adamant that the relationship between the two countries is “unshakable,” they are raising questions about how Israel handled the situation, telling CNN’s Elise Labott “playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.”
Just over a week before the announcement from Boehner, Obama spoke with Netanyahu and asked him not to push for new Iran sanctions, a senior administration official said.
Obama, and other world leaders negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, firmly argued against new sanctions for Iran while international negotiations were ongoing.
Both countries continue to state how important the U.S./Israel relationship is, while not directly addressing how this incident might hint at a more personal issue: trust between the two leaders.
Dermer has continually said the acceptance of the invitation is not personal, but a matter of Israeli national security. At a benefit last week in Boca Raton, Florida, Dermer hit back against critics.
“There may be some people who believe that the Prime Minster of Israel should have declined an invitation to speak before the most powerful parliament in the world on an issue that concerns the future and survival of Israel,” Dermer said. “But we have learned from our history that the world becomes a more dangerous place for the Jewish people when the Jewish people are silent.”
“The Prime Minister feels the deepest moral obligation to appear before the Congress to speak about an existential issue facing the one and only Jewish state.”
The White House has declined to meet with Netanyahu when he is Washington in March, citing the proximity of the visit to Israeli elections.
Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked if he thought there was a political motive behind the visit.
“It’s unclear to me exactly what their motive is, but what is clear is that this, in our view would only undermine the ability to build support internationally and to ultimately secure the kind of peace agreement with a two state outcome that we believe is clearly in the interest of Israel’s national security.”
A spokesman for the Speaker told CNN’s Jim Acosta that Boehner’s office has no indication that the PM will postpone his upcoming speech to Congress. It’s “locked in” per the spokesman, who says Netanyahu seems very committed.