Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu got the usual rousing reception Tuesday afternoon when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress. But the past few days have not been the smoothest for the U.S.-Israel relationship.
First President Obama, in his major address on the Middle East last Thursday, just days before Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington, said Israel’s 1967 borders should be the starting point for negotiations on a two-state solution to the situation — a stance that mirrors the Palestinian view.
That prompted a frosty response from Netanyahu, who said in a statement that he “expects” Obama to reaffirm President George W. Bush’s more favorable 2004 statements on the matter.
The pro-Israel lobby went into high gear, urging the White House to clarify things in Obama’s Sunday speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Word is they wanted Obama to toughen up on Hamas by referring to it as a terrorist organization. (He did.)
The second thing they wanted was to hear Obama dial back that border stuff to note that he was not calling on Israel to return to the precise 1967 borders. (He did.)
The third thing they wanted was for Obama to get closer to
the Israeli position that the Palestinian refugees have no
right of return to Israel. (He didn’t.)
The AIPAC speech may have smoothed a few feathers, but many strong Israel supporters remained ruffled. And Obama’s statements weren’t the only things that upset people.
Before the speech, former deputy national security adviser and assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams, for example, focused on what he called “a remarkable press release” from the State Department about Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg’s itinerary last week on his Middle East trip, during which he met with Israeli officials in West Jerusalem.
Abrams, writing in the Weekly Standard blog, noted that the release announced that Steinberg “visits Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
This raises the question, Abrams wrote, of whether the State Department thinks the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is not actually in Israel.
“I urge some member of Congress to put this to . . . Secretary Clinton at her next appearance or some journalist to ask it . . . at her next press conference: ‘In what country is the Knesset? In what country is the Western Wall of the Temple?’ ” Abrams wrote.
(Good idea. Of course, someone would then pop up and ask her where the Dome of the Rock is, and off we go . . . )
In any event, from what we could tell, it appears that Netanyahu went home without his great “expects” fulfilled.
Lots of big news in Detroit on Tuesday. Chrysler repaid its $7.6 billion in loans from Canada ($1.7 billion) and the United States ($5.9 billion) more than six years earlier than it had to.
Even bigger news was that Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia, a Detroit suburb, said he is “seriously eyeing a run for president,” according to the Detroit News, and will decide in the next two weeks whether to join the Republican field.
“The presumed front-runner of the group is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney , a Michigan native,” the News said.
Romney may be a native, but the best bet is that McCotter, 45, would easily carry any primary in Michigan. That’s because McCotter, in his fifth term, was one of only 32 GOP House members to vote — and urge others to vote — for the bailout. Romney opposed it.
“I think the majority of the Republican electorate isn’t happy with the choices they’ve got and want to take a look at new people,” McCotter told Politico.
In the most unlikely event that the little-known congressman is the pick in 2012, that would set up a race between Obama, who says he’s quit puffing, and McCotter, who apparently is a smoker.
His office didn’t respond Tuesday to inquiries on a puffing habit.
Apparently in keeping with the low-key White House campaign strategy, the most senior administration official at the loan-repayment announcement was the assistant to the president for manufacturing policy, Ron Bloom , a key player in the bailout.
On the House and Senate floors, members try to maintain some measure of decorum during debates.
But hearings are often another matter, especially when the pro-drillers go up against the anti- — or reluctant — drillers in the administration.
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) sharply criticized Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes for not offering up enough good land for oil and gas leases during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Tuesday.
“Basically if you offer them crap you’ll get crap,” he said. “That is the problem, and that is the picture you are painting.”
Hayes, our colleague Juliet Eilperin reports, disputed that assessment.
“I’d just like to make the point that there are certain areas that we think are not appropriate for drilling,” he said. Interior officials have also held auctions in “prime” areas in Wyoming and Utah, so the record “suggests that we are offering industry prime areas for production,” he added.
Culpa, maxima culpa.
We got not one but two e-mail reminders last week from General Services Administration Chief of Staff Michael Robertson offering GSA employees an “opportunity” to buy White House Easter eggs, the same kind used in the annual egg roll at the White House in April.
The souvenir eggs — don’t chomp on them, they’re made of wood — come in yellow, pink, purple and green and bear a seal that says “White House Easter Egg Roll 2011” with the signatures of the president and first lady Michelle Obama.
The eggs, made and sold by the National Park Foundation, are $7.50 for one or $26.50 for a four-pack for GSA employees. Now, you may say, well, that’s the same price the foundation has on its Web site, available to anyone.
True, but Robertson says to “be sure to use the special promo code: GSA” when you call. “Orders placed under this code will be delivered directly to GSA at no shipping cost to you.” Shipping is $6.95 for a four-pack.
On Friday we got a “friendly reminder” that it was the last day for employees to order official eggs “while supplies last.”
Sorry for the oversight. But the foundation appears to have some left. Even have some left over from 2010. The proceeds help support the annual event on the White House’s South Lawn, which is a national park.
You can follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.