30 January 2015
It would not be surprising that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Washington should remain a cause for controversy up to and even beyond the Israeli elections scheduled for 17 March 2015.
As a former diplomat I wish to add my voice to those who think that this is a breach of established diplomatic practice, and in a serious way.
An invitation to a head of state or government can be extended by no other official than his or her counterpart, who is the head of state or government of that country. Non-governmental organizations such as think-tanks do extend invitations on their own behalf but they need to coordinate this with their government, not least because a visit by a head of state or government entails obligations for the host country even if it were not an official visit.
House Speaker John Boehner was wrong to invite Mr. Netanyahu to visit Washington without properly consulting the White House since the Prime Minister’s interlocutor is the President of the United States.
PM Netanyahu was wrong to accept the invitation without consulting the Obama administration.
The White House is absolutely correct in referring to a “long-standing practice and principle” by which the president does not meet with heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections. This is in line with international practice as acting otherwise would be seen as interference in the internal affairs of another state and as such verges on a violation of a fundamental principle of international law.
Abuse of international practice for political gain is wrong as demonstrated by the debate on the motives of this invitation and on its acceptance. Given the underlying motives, it does not reflect well either on the US or Israel. But, more importantly, it does augur well for the near term health of US-Israel relations.