John McCain brushes off Israel PM's campaign comments on two-state solution, saying Obama 'has his priorities so screwed up it's unbelievable'
John McCain
© www.theguardian.comSenator John McCain, The Prioritizer.
Republicans flocked to Binyamin Netanyahu's defense on Sunday, seizing on the soured relations between Barack Obama and the prime minister as ties between the US and Israel strain to their weakest point in decades. Obama has either let acrimonious feelings for Netanyahu cloud his decisions "or he's delusional", Senator John McCain said on CNN's State of the Union, referring to the president's comments on Friday that Netanyahu's recent disavowal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it "hard to find a path forward".

Waging a close and bitter re-election campaign, Netanyahu had ruled out a two-state solution the day before polls opened last week. Two days after they closed, he attempted to walk back his comments, saying, "I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change."

McCain criticized Obama for taking issue with Netanyahu's statement: "The least of your problems are what Bibi Netanyahu said in a political campaign. If every politician was held to what they said in a political campaign, obviously that would be a topic of long discussion. The president has his priorities so screwed up that it's unbelievable." The former Republican presidential candidate said Obama should not even consider backing a UN resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state, adding the concern to a list of grievances that include a "Faustian bargain with the Iranians" over their nuclear program.

McCain and Republican senator Lindsey Graham have threatened to withhold US funds to the UN should the White House not intervene on the issue of Palestinian statehood.

Similarly, [Illinois, R] representative Adam Kinzinger on ABC's This Week expressed surprise that Obama would take Netanyahu's "election rhetoric" at face value. He added that peace talks with Palestinian leaders were "in a halt long before Netanyahu ran for re-election".

Comment: And of course Bibi had nothing to do with that... Didn't the Palestinians appreciate his "peace rockets" and three minute warnings?

Representative Steve King [Iowa, R] attempted to use the diplomatic rift to turn Jewish Americans away from the president's party: "I don't understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president."

Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he will fly to Israel this month.

Republicans have used the crisis in US-Israeli relations to threaten legislation that undermines Obama administration policies. Aligned with Netanyahu against the administration's negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Republicans are attempting to draft a bill that would require their approval for any deal.

Earlier this month, 47 Republicans signed an open letter to Iran aimed at derailing nuclear negotiations. The Republican-controlled Congress will also likely freeze US aid to Palestine if charges of war crimes against Israel reach the International Criminal Court.

Comment: Well, there's a win-win for Netanyahu! How slick.

Damage control and stalemate

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, attempted to stanch some of the diplomatic fallout but also made clear that Netanyahu would not change his positions against talks with Iran and some Palestinian leaders to better fit Obama's preferences.

Comment: If Obama acquiesces, it will be out in the open and clear to everyone that Bibi is in charge of US policy and international affairs.

Netanyahu has always supported a two-state solution, Dermer said, but rather "what he's against is establishing a terror state on the West Bank that would create not another Gaza but another 20 Gazas". Dermer said that Netanyahu refuses to negotiate with Hamas, a group considered a terrorist organization by the US and Israel, and whose leaders in part control the territories alongside Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu will negotiate with Abbas only once he breaks with Hamas, Dermer said. "A Palestinian state today would be a Palestinian terror state," he said, comparing Hamas to Iran-backed Hezbollah in Iran.

Also appearing on the program was Riyad Mansour, Palestine's permanent observer to the United Nations, who suggested Netanyahu's comments were disingenuous. "When we were divided they did not negotiate with us; when we are united they don't want to negotiate with us," he said.

Comment: This man is way too kind!

A United Nations resolution outlining Palestinian statehood would "harden" negotiating positions, Dermer said: "It could prevent peace for decades to come because no Palestinian leader will move from those positions." Israel would oppose a resolution, he added, and hopes the US would as well.

Comment: It has been decades already!!! How much harder could those positions be? The last thing on Israel's mind is peace. Of course Israel will oppose a resolution.

Himself a controversial figure in US-Israeli relations who has brought Republicans and Netanyahu together hand-in-hand, Dermer insisted the White House could trust him. The ambassador avoided, however, any mention of what the White House called Netanyahu's "cynical, divisive" campaign rhetoric, which included comments about Arabs "heading to the polling stations in droves". Administration spokesman Josh Earnest said Netanyahu's comments "undermines the values and democratic ideals" of the US and Israel.

Comment: Sorry, that ship sailed long ago.

But the stalemate in peace talks - neither Netanyahu, Abbas nor Hamas appear ready to concede any point - means American action or inaction is a variable for the first time in decades. The US could stand aside as a framework for Palestinian statehood passes through the UN, for instance, or decline to intervene in international attempts to press Israel on the issue.

Democrats have largely avoided the issue, uniformly reiterating their own support for Israel in public comments. But Representative Steve Israel defended the president on Sunday, saying that "what counts is the substance".

"Everybody needs to take a deep breathe an step back," Israel said on CBS's Face the Nation, noting that security cooperation remains not only undiminished but has increased under Obama. "There's personality and there's the policy."