Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new neighbourhood in the southern town of Sderot January 28, 2015. Image Credit: REUTERS

The days may be numbered for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is about to lead his “ethnocracy” into a major conflict with the US and other international governments that are attempting to get a nuclear deal with Iran.

Israel and the US are considered close allies, but the relationship between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama has soured lately over the issue of denying Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran has repeatedly stressed that it is not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. And the so-called P5+1 (US, Russia, China, Britain, France + Germany) is determined to compel Iran to sign a comprehensive nuclear agreement to this effect.

What has seriously complicated matters recently, as far as this issue is concerned, has been the presence of an ill-timed bill in the US Senate, now controlled by the Republican party alongside the House of Representatives, following the recent mid-term elections. This bill threatens to impose new sanctions on Iran if a deal is not reached by the end of June. The Obama administration is against the passing of this bill before talks resume in March, for fear that Iran will pull out of negotiations that may hopefully be fruitful.

What may sabotage that goal has been the inelegant invitation sent by House Speaker John Boehner to Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on this crucial issue, much to the surprise and shock of Obama and his senior aides, including Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, especially when dealing with foreign leaders. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said this about Boehner’s action, reportedly promoted by American-born Israeli Ambassador Ron Derrmer: “It’s out of the ordinary that the Speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to [address] a joint session of Congress without any bipartisan consultation.”

Boehner explained that he had invited Netanyahu to speak about “the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life”. In other words, explained M.J. Rosenberg of the Nation, “Boehner would use Netanyahu to make the case for new sanctions, making it much harder for Democrats to withstand pressure from the [pro-Israel] lobby. If that couldn’t achieve the two-thirds necessary to override [Obama’s] veto, nothing could”.

Netanyahu is said to believe that his opposition to Obama will enhance his chances of winning another term as Prime Minister when the Israeli elections are held, two weeks after he addresses the American Congress on March 3. However, the Israeli prime minister’s chance of retaining his position received another blow last week, as a poll showed that the joint Labour-Hatnuah and Zionist Camp ticket has risen to 26 seats, widening its lead over Likud by an additional three seats. Likud, the poll showed, gained only 23 seats.

Netanyahu’s stance has unexpectedly prompted Hillary Clinton, a likely Democratic nominee in the US presidential election in 2016, to declare her support for Obama in his tiff with Boehner and the Israeli premier. New sanctions against Iran, she continued, would be “a very serious strategic error ... Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?”

Hillary’s statement, Rosenberg wrote, “is also significant because she has rarely broken with the [pro-Israel] lobby on anything”. Her decision to do so, he added, “indicates that she has seen the polls showing that the Democratic base is far less enamoured of Israeli policies than it used to be, and certainly less than the Republicans”.

Netanyahu will also attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) conference in the same week that he is scheduled to address the US Congress. Meanwhile, his upcoming visit to Washington has splintered many American Jewish organisations. The Anti-Defamation League national director, Abraham Foxman, called on Boehner to rescind his invitation to Netanyahu. Dylan Williams, director of government affairs at J-Street, a Washington lobby group that describes itself as a pro-Israel organisation but supports a two-state solution, believes that this move by Netanyahu has definitely backfired in terms of Democrats.

“There are things you simply don’t do,” an unnamed senior US official was quoted as saying by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year-and-a-half left to his presidency and that there will be a price.”

George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com