President Barack Obama speaks about Iran and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress during a meeting with Defense Secretary Ash Carter in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Image Credit: AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered “nothing new” in his diatribe on Tuesday at his third appearance before a joint session of the US Congress, blasting ongoing negotiations in Europe between the so-called P5+1 (the US, Russia, Britain, France, China plus Germany) and Iran over the latter’s alleged nuclear ambitions.

This sharp evaluation was offered by the US President Barack Obama at a press meeting 10 minutes after Netanyahu finished with his loud outrage over the ongoing negotiations with Iran; although he did not offer any alternatives for dealing with Tehran. He, however, still received loud applause and a standing ovation at the Republican-dominated session.

Obama and his Vice-President, Joe Biden, who was travelling overseas, did not attend the Congressional session, presumably because of the severe public exchanges over Netanyahu’s untimely address to Congress and the ongoing negotiations with Iran. The invitation to Netanyahu was secretly issued by Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The Israeli prime minister’s relationship with Obama has been cool and he will be running for re-election on March 17. American presidents shun foreign leaders at such times, lest it imply US support for a foreign candidate.

Moreover, about 60 of Obama’s fellow Democrats in the US Congress boycotted Netanyahu’s address, while two senior US officials — Susan Rice, the national security adviser, and Samantha Powers, the US ambassador to the UN — spoke at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac).

Netanyahu’s preference was for the US to maintain its restrictions on Iran. “If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behaviour before a deal is signed,” he said, “they should at the very least be prepared to insist that Iran changes its behaviour before the deal expires”.

But what Netanyahu seems to forget was his stance vis-a-vis the Palestinians. He walked out of peace negotiations with the Palestinians last year despite the months-long efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry and Martin Indyk, now vice-president and director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and a former US ambassador to Israel.

Here is what Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a Gulf News columnist, had to say: “US officials should not be honouring Netanyahu and flattering him with standing ovations. They should be moving to cut off aid to his government over its grave human rights abuses and prosecuting him for war crimes committed during last summer’s brutal attack on Gaza, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including more than 500 children.”

Additionally, the Israeli leader would do well to give serious attention to the Arab Peace Initiative, first endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 at a summit meeting of the 22-member states in Beirut. The proposal calls for normalising relations with Israel in exchange for Tel Aviv’s complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories including East Jerusalem, and a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue based on UN Resolution 194.

Missing from the US-Israel exchanges this week has been unearthing Israel’s nuclear objectives, a point that Netanyahu forgets to mention, while he is lambasting the Iranians for their reported nuclear ambitions.

Another issue the Obama administration immediately needs to focus its attention on is Israel’s refusal to transfer all the tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian National Authority, an illogical step that Israel has taken after the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), a step that will be authenticated on April 1. The move would pave the way for the ICC to take jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Palestinian lands and to investigate the conduct of Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The World Bank has warned that the war in Gaza has contributed to a reversal of seven years of growth in the Palestinian economy.

One can only hope under these circumstances that the upcoming Israeli national election would bring more reasonable Israeli leaders to the fore. Or else, the war mongering could be devastating.

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