Pro-Israel Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Lindsay Graham (SC) and John Barrasso (WY) showed up in Jerusalem on Friday, apparently to remind the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that they do not feel he is sufficiently supportive of the Israeli Prime Minister and his negotiating positions.
How often does a U.S. Senate delegation visit a foreign country, during a visit of a high ranking State Department official in order to make their opposition to the official U.S. position known? Has it ever happened before? And does the fact that we are talking about Israel make it OK?
Andrea Mitchell at MSNBC interviewed R. Nicholas Burns and Jane Harman about the surprise visit. Burns, who served in the State Department under President George W. Bush, would not criticize the Republican senators and called the visit “politics as usual.” However, despite her avid pro-Israel and pro-lobby positions, Harman, a Democrat, who was formerly the powerful Chairwomen of the House Intelligence Committee, took a shot at the Senate delegation:
I understand that Lindsey Graham is in a tough primary but gee whiz guys, I think being the mouthpiece of the Prime Minister of Israel while our Secretary of State is there is not very smart.
And Bibi Netanyahu has direct channels to John Kerry any time he wants to use them either public or private, and I think frankly what they did, however well intended it might have been or however focused on their politics it might have been, should not have happened.
Harman’s party loyalty apparently won out over her pro-Israel inclinations in the interview. However, I imagine she will be soon receiving a telephone call from someone at AIPAC, who will at least mildly reprimand her for stating the obvious, that crashing Secretary Kerry’s party was a horrible misstep.
The senators met with Netanyahu and other Israeli government officials, including Avigdor Lieberman, on Friday. They also met with Kerry. Although the senators were careful not to criticize the Secretary directly, (McCain said he supports the Kerry peace talks) they made their displeasure very clear.
McCain emphasized after a meeting with Netanyahu, that he shares the Israeli leader’s concerns about Kerry’s peace plan.
Netanyahu has serious, serious concerns about the plan as has been presented to him, whether it be on the ability of Israel to defend its borders or the reliability of a Palestinian state and their intentions.
The Washington Post characterized Graham’s statement supporting the Israeli position for continued military control over the Jordan Valley this way:
Graham said that despite detailed security proposals for the West Bank developed by a special U.S. envoy, retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, senior Israelis remain unconvinced. “Here’s the one thing that I think dominates the thinking in Israel: that once you withdraw, then the ability to go back is almost impossible,” Graham said. “Look at Gaza. What’s the chance of going back into Gaza militarily?”
Israel can defend itself against rocket attacks from that formerly Israeli-occupied territory, but withdrawal meant giving up the “ability to chart your own destiny,” Graham said.
Kerry repeatedly reminds people that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is extremely difficult. I wonder if he ever thought that McCain and Co. crashing the negotiations would be one of the problems he would face.