Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to address US Congress on July 24 amid Gaza war

Congress’s invitation latest show of US support for Israel despite global outrage over Israel’s war on Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he attends a cabinet meeting [Gil Cohen/Reuters]Published On 7 Jun 20247 Jun 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address a joint meeting of Congress on July 24, setting the stage for what is expected to be a contentious speech at a crucial moment for the continuing Israel-Hamas war.

Congressional leaders confirmed the date of the address late on Thursday after formally inviting Netanyahu to speak before lawmakers last week in the latest show of support for the longtime ally despite mounting political divisions over Israel’s military assault on Gaza.

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“The existential challenges we face, including the growing partnership between Iran, Russia, and China, threaten the security, peace, and prosperity of our countries and of free people around the world,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, said in the letter.

“To build on our enduring relationship and to highlight America’s solidarity with Israel, we invite you to share the Israeli government’s vision for defending democracy, combatting terror, and establishing a just and lasting peace in the region.”

Netanyahu’s appearance before an increasingly divided Congress is sure to be controversial and met with plenty of protests both inside the Capitol from lawmakers and outside by pro-Palestinian protesters.

Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the US – who delivered a stinging rebuke of Netanyahu in March – said in a separate statement on Thursday night that he has “clear and profound disagreements” with the Israeli leader but joined in the request for him to speak “because America’s relationship with Israel is ironclad and transcends one person or prime minister”.

Other Democratic lawmakers more critical of Netanyahu’s strategy are expected to be no-shows for the address. Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, said: “Netanyahu is a war criminal. I certainly will not attend.”

Frayed US-Israel relations

Netanyahu’s visit to the Capitol also comes as his relationship with President Joe Biden has become increasingly frayed.

Biden has privately and publicly criticised Netanyahu’s handling of the war and shown his disapproval of the Israeli government for not allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Late last week, Biden also outlined a proposal that he said would lead to an “enduring” ceasefire in Gaza.

The three-phase plan would see the release of Israelis being held captive in the territory, as well as hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, Biden said.

The plan also says a reconstruction plan for Gaza would begin in a third phase of the proposal and the remains of any captives killed would be returned to their families.

The initiative, which Biden said was put forward by Israel, marks a shift in the position of the US administration, which had only sought a temporary truce while backing Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas.

While Biden said Israel had agreed to the plan, he noted that some Israelis – including members of Netanyahu’s coalition government – were likely to disagree with the proposal and call for the war to continue.

“They’ve made it clear: They want to occupy Gaza. They want to keep fighting for years. The hostages are not a priority for them. Well, I urge the leadership in Israel to stand behind this deal despite whatever pressure comes,” Biden said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies