WASHINGTON — US Senator John McCain on Sunday accused President Barack Obama of putting personal grievances with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of pressing geopolitical concerns in the Middle East.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain said that the president should “get over” his “temper tantrum” following Netanyahu’s election victory on Tuesday.
In a restive interview Saturday, Obama had suggested that Israel’s democracy may “erode” following contentious statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Tuesday’s election. His comments came amid a nadir in ties between the two leaders over the right approach to tackling Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli leader’s controversial speech before Congress earlier this month.
Responding to signals from the White House that the US could stop using its United Nations Security Council veto power to quash unilateral resolutions in support of Palestinian statehood, McCain, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, warned Obama against such a move.
He said that if the US acquiesced to a UN resolution calling for a Palestinian state, and if it were approved at the UN, “the United States Congress would have to examine our funding for the United Nations.” Washington is the single biggest funder of the international body, but current legislation permits defunding of any UN body that recognizes Palestinian statehood.
“It would be a violation because of the president’s anger over a statement by the prime minister of Israel,” McCain explained. “It would contradict American policy for the last at least 10 presidents of the United States.”
For years, the US has rejected attempts to dictate the terms of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians through the UN, arguing that the only path to an effective settlement of the conflict is through a two-state solution reached by direct negotiations between the parties.
In the run-up to the Israeli elections, Netanyahu made statements saying that no Palestinian state would be established during his premiership. But in post-election interviews, the prime minister emphasized that the seeming improbability of reaching a two-state solution was not shaped by Netanyahu’s unwillingness, but due to the almost year-old alliance between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as well as the increasing instability of the region.
McCain agreed with Netanyahu’s assessment that regional instability should be at the center of American geopolitical considerations.
“It’s time that we work together with our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of [Islamic State] and Iranian movement throughout the region, which is threatening the very fabric of the region,” McCain said.
“The president has his priorities so screwed up that it’s unbelievable,” he claimed. “The least of your problems are what Bibi Netanyahu said in a political campaign. It pales in significance to the situation which continues to erode throughout the Middle East and it puts America at risk.”
Speaking after McCain, Jewish Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) rejected the senator’s statements about Obama, although he didn’t get behind the White House’s pugilistic stance toward Netanyahu.
Asked about McCain’s accusations that Obama was “throwing a temper tantrum,” Israel responded “I don’t think its helpful for that strategic asset for people to reduce the relationship between Israel and the United States to a political football.”
Downplaying the tensions with the administration as indicative of a turn in US-Israel relations, Israel said that “Netanyahu has said – and I agree with him – that Israel’s most important strategic asset is bipartisan support in the Congress.”
Israel, who was one of the Democratic legislators who escorted Netanyahu to the House floor as he prepared to deliver a speech challenging the administration’s position in talks with Iran, noted that he had previously publicly disagreed with the Obama administration over a number of Israel-related concerns. Still, he argued, “everybody needs to take a deep breath and step back.”
“There’s the personality and then there’s the policy,” Israel explained, referring to the well-documented acrimony between Netanyahu and Obama. “But what counts is the substance, and on the substance the relationship between the US and Israel has never been closer on military, strategic and intelligence issues.”
Israel was markedly less conciliatory, however, in discussing a very public war of words in recent days between himself and Rep. Steve King (R-IA).
Speaking Friday on Boston Herald Radio, King had said that he “didn’t understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president.”
Israel told CNN Sunday that “I really do not need a lessons from people like Steve King on what it is to be Jewish or a Democrat.”
“I haven’t seen Steve King at the hearings to fund the Iron Dome or the Arrow system,” Israel continued, referring to two joint US-Israel defense projects that are largely funded through Congressional appropriations. “Steve King, who said America is a Christian nation, should not be lecturing Jews about how we should be Jewish.”