By Ahuva Balofsky
Two Republican Senators have expressed strong support for Israel in recent days, in spite of what they consider to be words and deeds that undermine the US-Israel relationship by President Barack Obama.
Both Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed to stand behind Israel against a UN Security Council resolution which seeks to force Israel’s hand on Palestinian statehood, as well as against a bad nuclear deal with Iran.
McConnell, who is set to become Senate majority leader in January and is one of the most influential people in Washington today, spoke to Israel HaYom in Washington last week, following the announced US-Cuba thaw. He spoke of his skepticism regarding Obama and Israel.
“It is no secret that president Obama isn’t popular in Israel, and for good reason,” McConnell, 72, said. “In my view, he has tilted on numerous occasions in a direction that would lead Israelis to believe that he is not as solemn an ally as past presidents have been.”
He cited Cuba to demonstrate Obama may not have Israel’s best interests at heart. When it comes to Iran, he said, “If I were the Israeli government, looking at what the president did yesterday with regard to Cuba, I would be pretty nervous that the president is not above making a bad deal.”
But if Obama is not in Israel’s corner, the tiny country still has powerful allies in the US.
“My impression is that the relationship between this president and Israel is the worst I have seen in the time that I’ve been in the Senate, and even before that, when I was an observer of the Senate.” On the other hand, “The relationship between Israel and Congress is quite good, on a bipartisan basis,” he added.
The Senate is working on two tracks to prevent Obama from accepting a bad deal; a requirement for Congress to approve any deal with Iran, and an increase in sanctions if the Iranians leave talks or backtrack on a deal.
As for the Palestinian Authority’s bid to force Israel into a timetable for withdrawal from territories it claims as its future state by pushing a UN Security Council resolution, McConnell said the US should reject it.
“I think it would be an outrage if the United States did not veto such an effort. I suppose that the president could do it on his own, or he could argue that he could do it on his own, because he has been doing a lot of other things on his own. But I think it would be a huge mistake for him and for his party. Just looking at the politics of this I can’t imagine the American Jewish community would not be completely up in arms,” he noted.
Senator Graham visited Israel, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday. Picking up on the same themes, Graham took his stance on the UN bid one step further. At the meeting, Graham declared Congress would not “sit back and allow the United Nations to take over the peace process.
PM Netanyahu’s Meeting with US Senator Lindsey Graham
“Any effort by the French, the Jordanians or anyone to avoid direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians over the peace process, anyone who tries to take this to the UN Security Council” will be met with “a violent backlash by the Congress that could include suspending funding to the United Nations. We will not sit back and allow the United Nations to take over the peace process.”
He added, Congress “has your back, in a very bipartisan way. The Republican Party now runs the House and the Senate, and things will be a bit different. But one thing will be constant: There will be bipartisan support.”
Graham reiterated the same position as McConnell on Iran. “If Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed,” said Graham. “If Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter to the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed. It is important to let the Iranians know that from an American point of view, sanctions are alive and well. So we will be following your counsel and advice,” he told Netanyahu.
“You will see a very vigorous Congress, when it comes to Iran,” Graham continued. “You will see a Congress making sure sanctions are real and will be re-imposed at the drop of a hat. You will see Congress wanting to have a say about any final deal.”
As chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the incoming Senate’s Appropriations Committee, Graham will hold considerable influence over American foreign policy.