Rep. Beto O’Rourke: Why I won’t attend Netanyahu’s address to Congress this week

By Rep. Beto O’Rourke / Guest columnist

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the most important that we have with another country. It is certainly the most important for Israel.

Each year a strong bipartisan majority in Congress votes to send Israel more than $3 billion in support, which is more than we give to any other country today. Cumulatively it is more than we’ve ever given to any country in our history. But beyond the financial support, Israel is our partner as we confront common threats like international terrorism and develop defense technologies in close partnership.

That partnership has extended throughout Israel’s history. America regularly stands up for Israel on the international stage. In fact, the U.S. was the first country to recognize the state of Israel in 1948 (and the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to oppose formal recognition of Palestine more recently).

And when it comes to what is potentially Israel’s single greatest existential threat — a nuclear-armed Iran — the United States has led the international effort to prevent that country from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons.

That is why it is nearly incomprehensible that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would accept, and perhaps even initiate, a politically charged invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress on Tuesday while bypassing the president. It has grave implications for the negotiations with Iran and for the very nature of U.S.-Israel relations.

In the president’s State of the Union address last month, he outlined the case for allowing the unique and unlikely coalition of the United States, China, Russia, France, Great Britain and Germany (known as the P5+1) to pursue a negotiated resolution to the threat Iran poses as it gets closer to developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Sanctions from this coalition have brought Iran to the negotiating table, and progress in the negotiations have kept the sanctions coalition together.

If negotiations fail, it will be critically important that we maintain the coalition as we assess all options, economic and otherwise, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That will be made much more difficult if Iran can convince the world community that the United States was not a committed negotiating partner, one whose government was so divided during the negotiations that we invited the Israeli prime minister to rebuke our president in an effort to scuttle the negotiations.

If you think it’s hard to keep China and Russia on our side now, it will be close to impossible if these negotiations fail, and we are seen to be the ones to blame. Any new sanctions that we impose will lose their coercive effect if we are the only ones to implement them, leaving us with only less desirable options to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The prime minister certainly has every reason and right to assert his position and the interests of his country. And John Boehner has every right to invite whomever he chooses to speak to Congress.

But by politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship with an address which will be seen as a refutation of our foreign policy and our president, one that will take place two weeks before national elections in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Speaker Boehner are playing a destructive and reckless game with the U.S.- Israel relationship and will potentially upset the delicate state of our negotiations with Iran and our leadership of the P5+1.

I hold out hope that statesmanship, and not politics, will prevail.

The speech could be rescheduled for another time, apart from elections and with respect for our president, so that we can focus on improving the historic bipartisan relationship with Israel and work together against common threats like Iran.

But ultimately my commitment is to this country and our interests, and I won’t support any action that will undermine them.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso represents Texas’ 16th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.


Originally published at www.elpasotimes.com on March 1, 2015.