Poll: Most Americans think Obama should meet PM in March

58% believe president should receive Netanyahu; 47% disapprove of Republican invite to Israeli leader to address Congress

US President Barack Obama (left) walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 20, 2011. (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/Flash90)
US President Barack Obama (left) walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 20, 2011. (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/Flash90)

A new poll released Wednesday suggests that while most Americans think it was inappropriate of Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the US Congress on Iran next month — raising the ire of the White House — a majority believe President Barack Obama should meet with the Israeli leader nonetheless.

According to a survey of 1,000 American adults by the London-based YouGov market research firm, 47 percent of respondents disapproved of the invitation issued to Netanyahu, which White House officials deemed a breach of protocol as the administration was not consulted, while 30% saw nothing wrong with it. The rest were unsure.

Along party lines, more Democrats (72%) than Republicans (29%), unsurprisingly, felt the invitation was inappropriate.

Almost half of the respondents (46%) felt their Congress representative should attend the speech on March 3 regardless, with 24% responding “no,” and 30% “not sure.”

Although Obama — along with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden — has said he will not meet with the PM during his visit to Washington, because of its proximity to Israel’s March 17 elections, more than half of those polled (58%) felt he should (23% were unsure).

When asked who did a better job of handling US-Israel ties, respondents were split four ways: 24% said Obama, 26% said Republicans in Congress, with 26% saying neither and 24% unsure.

The survey had a margin of error of 4.1%.

Despite rising pressure to cancel or delay his speech, Netanyahu has said he intends to go ahead, characterizing fraying ties with the White House over Iran as unexceptional in the two countries’ histories.

Acknowledging “a profound disagreement with the United States administration and the rest of the P5+1 over the offer that has been made to Iran,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, “I intend to speak about this issue before the March 24th deadline and I intend to speak in the US Congress because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran.”

The March 24 deadline refers to a Congressional vote on the Iran sanctions deal, which comes a week ahead of the March 31 deadline of international negotiations with Iran.

Netanyahu was invited to speak before American lawmakers by Boehner, but the invitation was criticized by the White House as a “violation of protocol.”

The prime minister has since faced widespread criticism for accepting the invitation.

Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni have charged that the speech was motivated by the Knesset elections, set to take place just two weeks later. Many Democrats and Jewish leaders have suggested that Netanyahu is turning Israel into a partisan issue in an increasingly polarized Washington.

Democrats have complained that the speech is an affront to Obama.

But Netanyahu has held firm, and there are no signs that Boehner or other Republican leaders intend to rescind the invitation.

The looming danger from Iran justified the move, Netanyahu argued.

“This is a regime, Iran, that is openly committed to Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said. “It would be able, under this deal, to break out to a nuclear weapon in a short time, and within a few years, to have the industrial capability to produce many nuclear bombs for the goal of our destruction.”

He added: “This offer would enable Iran to threaten Israel’s survival.”

His argument with Obama wasn’t the first time an Israeli prime minister and an American president had clashed on security issues, Netanyahu noted.

“Israel’s survival is not a partisan issue, not in Israel nor in the United States. This doesn’t mean that from time to time Israeli governments have not had serious disagreements with American administrations over the best way to achieve the security of Israel,” he said.

“Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared Israel’s independence in the face of strong opposition from US Secretary of State George Marshall,” he said, ticking off a lineup of disputes from levi Eshkol to Ariel Sharon. “Disagreements over Israel’s security have occurred between prime ministers in Israel from the left and from the right and American presidents from both parties.”

“This is not a personal disagreement between President Obama and me. I deeply appreciate all that he has done for Israel in many fields. Equally, I know that the President appreciates my responsibility, my foremost responsibility, to protect and defend the security of Israel. I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfil my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country.”

The White House has also sought to downplay the tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, despite Netanyahu and Obama butting heads over Iran.

On Monday, Obama said he and Netanyahu had “a very real difference around Iran, around sanctions,” but suggested that not wanting him to speak, and not inviting him to the White House was meant to safeguard the strong bond between Israel and the US by not appearing partisan so close to the Israeli elections.

“This is the US-Israeli relationship that extends beyond parties. It has to do with that unbreakable bond that we feel and our commitment to Israel’s security and the shared values that we have. The way to preserve that is to ensure that it doesn’t get clouded by what could be perceived as partisan politics…. That’s something we have to guard against.”

AP contributed to this report.

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