The date was May 24, 2011 and it was standing room only in the lower chamber of the U.S. Capital building. A very special speaker was on his way to address U.S. lawmakers and rather than the usual complement of aides and student pages filling the back rows when foreign leaders visit – every Senator and Congressperson was sitting and standing shoulder to shoulder – anxiously waiting on the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to arrive. Absent from the scene was U.S. President Barack Obama.
Netanyahu seized the opportunity to discuss with the joint session of Congress why his nation should not return to its pre-1967 borders as part of a future peace agreement with Palestinians – a move which Obama insists upon.
Twenty-nine bipartisan standing ovations and 40 minutes later – Netanyahu was lauded out of the room on the shoulders(figuratively speaking) of our nation’s leaders with praise and accolades for his graceful speech. He had delivered as promised – impressing lawmakers with his command of the podium, the substance of his speech and his quick wit. Their sincere embrace of Bibi reflected the wide bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and among the American public.
On that day Netanyahu told Congress that any two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must take into account “the dramatic demographic changes” that have occurred since 1967, when Israel won territory and unified Jerusalem in the Six Day War.
“It is my responsibility to lead my people to peace,” Netanyahu said. But that peace, he argued, must be based first on security. “The only peace that will hold is a peace that you can defend.”
Palestinian officials immediately told the press that the path to peace outlined by Netanyahu amounted to a “declaration of war.”
He appealed to American lawmakers on the basis of commonalities between the two nations.
“You don’t need to do nation-building in Israel; we’ve already built. You don’t need to export democracy to Israel; we’ve already got it,” he said. “You don’t need to send American troops to Israel; we defend ourselves.”
He warned about the threat Iran poses to Israel and other nations.
“The greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons,” he said.
Sources close to Netanyahu denied charges that by addressing Congress, the prime minister was attempting to bypass US President Barack Obama and take Israel’s case to the country’s lawmakers, since they are more favorable to Netanyahu and Israel than the president.
Skipping forward to the present – House Speaker John Boehner has invited Netanyahu to address Congress on Iran without consulting President Barack Obama, and the White House questioned whether protocol had been violated.
Setting up a diplomatic showdown on an issue that has sharply divided Obama and congressional Republicans, Boehner announced the invitation the day after Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to veto Iran sanctions legislation being developed in Congress.
Netanyahu is now expected in Washington on February 11* to address another joint meeting of Congress. This will be the 3rd time he has addressed Congress; the first came during his first tenure in 1996.
[*ed note 2.18.15: The Feb 11 date was postponed after the publication of this article. The new date for the speech is March 3, 2015. Opinions vary on why the postponement happened – but needless to say the Obama White House has been scrambling to undermine Netanyahu’s appearance and is most likely responsible. Obama won’t be meeting with the Prime Minister and Vice President Joe Biden won’t be attending Netanyahu’s speech before the joint session. Also planning to be absent – Sec of State John Kerry and a dozen, give or take, other democrat lawmakers who are “boycotting” the speech.]
Watch Netanyahu’s entire 2011 speech: