It was during one of the many power struggles between President Carter and the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, when a French ambassador, who had served in the United States, was moved to exclaim, “But this Congress is another Knesset!” This remark was occasioned by the fact that, while the president of the United States was negotiating a rapprochement between Israel and Egypt, the Jewish lobby in the American Congress made it as difficult as possible in hopes of closing the lid on the project. Carter went on to force Begin to sign the “peace of the braves” with the Egyptian Anwar Sadat.

Negotiations with Iran

Today, with Republican majority leader John Boehner’s surprise invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address both houses together, the remark could be used again as it stands. This invitation was made official the day after the president made his State of the Union address, and certainly constitutes an affront to Obama, who was clearly taken by surprise. It publically conflicts with one of the most sensitive points of his address: his request that the American Congress not hinder delicate negotiations by voting for new sanctions against Iran. It is hoped that these negotiations may result in sufficient assurances that Tehran will abandon its ambitions for nuclear weapons, thus enabling Iran to rejoin the ranks of socially acceptable nations, that is, those nations that you can do business with. American businessmen, among many others, have waited a long time for the “Ali Baba’s cave” of this major country, the former Persia, to reopen for business.

“(Obama) expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: Hell no! … We’re going to do no such thing,” exclaimed John Boehner. And with the new Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, he announced that the two houses would put in place new sanctions, “whether Obama likes it or not.” This action confirms that the Congress, formed by the elections in November, is aligning itself with the bellicose ideas of Netanyahu, who will no doubt come to repeat in front of the American congressmen his demand to be given the means to destroy Iranian nuclear research establishments.

The date of this visit to Washington, planned for March 3, has in any case given Obama the ideal pretext for not receiving this head of a foreign government who, in defiance of all diplomatic regulations, has accepted the invitation from Congress, without either the White House or the State Department being warned. The Israeli elections will take place two weeks later, so as National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meechan explained, “As a matter of longstanding practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country.”

Electoral Strategy

While Netanyahu’s visit to Washington gives the Republicans an opportunity to clash with Obama over his Iranian policy, it also allows the Israeli prime minister to claim to have the support of the American Congress. This is a significant advantage in the election. Netanyahu has previously been in the habit of using foreign trips as part of his election campaigns. In the same way, it seems very out of place that on the evening of the Jan. 11 march in Paris, at the time of the ceremony at the Grand Synagogue of Paris for the victims in Porte de Vincennes, he was greeted with very loud cheers of "Bibi, Bibi" in the presence of François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Those close to Yitzak Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party which opposes Likud, recall that in 1996, the Israeli prime minister, then Shimon Perez, visited Washington barely a month before the elections. It was a trip that provoked this stinging remark from an interested party: “I can't find an example of any previous Israeli government whose prime minister, on the eve of elections, made a cynical attempt to use relations between Israel and the United States as a party advertisement.” The source of this reprimand was none other than … Benjamin Netanyahu.