Monday, June 17, 2024

Israel’s Netanyahu to address joint session of Congress in July


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress on July 24, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced late Thursday, with the Israeli leader facing mounting U.S. frustration and his own war cabinet at risk of collapse.

An invitation was extended to Netanyahu last week by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that said it was looking to “build on our enduring relationship and to highlight America’s solidarity with Israel.”

“The existential challenges we face, including the growing partnership between Iran, Russia, and China, threaten the security, peace, and prosperity of our countries,” wrote Johnson, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the invitation.

“We look forward to hearing the Israeli government’s vision for defending democracy, combating terror, and establishing a just and lasting peace in the region,” Johnson said in Thursday’s announcement.

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The invitation comes against the backdrop of U.S. political divisions over Israel’s destructive war in Gaza. Officials in Washington, Israel’s strongest ally, have increasingly voiced frustration with Netanyahu as he faces worldwide condemnation over an Israeli assault in Rafah and warnings of famine in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

While U.S. officials shuttle around the region seeking to clinch a deal for a cease-fire and the release of Hamas hostages, Netanyahu is under U.S. pressure to back a proposal outlined by President Biden last week as the Israeli option.

But Netanyahu has distanced himself from the proposal, after his far-right partners threatened to bring down his coalition if he agrees to the deal.

The war in Gaza has accelerated a dynamic that has been years in the making, as Netanyahu’s tensions with Democrats and his strategy of aligning with Republicans helped fray the bipartisan American consensus behind Israel.

Alluding to some of the divisions, Schumer said in a statement that he had agreed to Netanyahu’s address despite having “clear and profound disagreements” with the Israeli leader, “because America’s relationship with Israel is ironclad and transcends one person or prime minister.” Schumer, one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress, criticized Netanyahu and called for new elections in a scathing speech in March that drew backlash from Israeli officials.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has promised to boycott a Netanyahu speech to Congress, said Thursday that Netanyahu should not have been honored with the invitation, accusing him of “going to war against the entire Palestinian people.”

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is also under pressure at home from the families of hostages urging a deal to secure the release of those still held by Hamas.

Another challenge is coming from Benny Gantz, a political rival of Netanyahu, who gave the embattled leader until Saturday to present a long-term plan for Gaza, or he says he will step down from the war cabinet and pull his party from the government.

Israeli jets appear to have used a U.S.-made munition in a deadly strike on a U.N. school in Gaza on Thursday, according to weapons experts. The attack killed 33 people, including nine children, the Associated Press reported. An Israeli military spokesman said 20 to 30 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters were operating from a compound inside the school. The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said the school in central Gaza had been sheltering thousands of displaced people when it was hit “without prior warning.” The Israeli military said Friday it was continuing operations, including airstrikes, against militants in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza and in Rafah in southern Gaza.

It will cost at least $22 million to repair the pier built off Gaza’s coast by the U.S. military, according to two Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military plans. The mission to deliver aid to starving Palestinians via the pier immediately faced obstacles when it began last month and was suspended after severe setbacks, as well as bad weather. The project has drawn criticism from aid workers and lawmakers, who contend that instead of building the pier, the administration should do more to pressure Israel to ease restriction on aid into Gaza through land crossings.

At least ​​36,654 people have been killed and 83,309 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers. It says 294 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

Steve Hendrix, Louisa Loveluck, Hajar Harb, Cate Brown and Niha Masih contributed to this report.





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