When Foreign Policy and Domestic Policy Blur

Emily Stewart

Tuesday, March 3rd will prove a crucial moment for Israel and the United States, and in both countries, the speech that will occur on this date will have ramifications in the domestic arena as well. Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to the United States Congress, in a speech in which a hefty dose of American polarization is at stake. As Secretary of State John Kerry, alongside many European partners will meet with Iranian officials this week in efforts to draft some kind of deal with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to speak to a Congress that will smugly appreciate the criticism of the Obama administration’s policy toward negotiating “with the devil,” in the words of an article in The Washington Post. In fact, the Republican Congress, represented by Speaker of the House John Boehner, is the party that extended the Israeli Prime Minister the invitation to speak, a speech that will be watched around the world—a fact of which the Republican Congress is well aware, highlighting the important notion that foreign policy and domestic policy are never confined to their separate arenas. For Israel, too, though, the speech serves as a reminder that foreign policy, particularly relations with the United States and its position vis-à-vis its Middle Eastern neighbors, is a matter of crucial importance at election time. Benjamin Netanyahu is up for reelection for the post of Prime Minister, and his speech comes at a convenient moment to show his strength against perceived American weakness to Iran. As a result, Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday serves as a reminder that polarization in both the United States and Israel is not merely a matter of internal matters, but so, too, can interstate relations define the relationship between parties in each country. For this reason, the world, especially the major political contenders in both the United States and Israel, will await the speech with anticipation.

Perhaps, though, the actual content of the speech is less important than the symbolic value it holds for the United States and Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s stance on American negotiations with Iran is clear. Evident also is the Republican desire to place President Obama in a difficult position. As a result, the fine details of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech may be less important than the fact that a foreign leader will physically stand in front of a polarized American legislative body, serving to make ever more public the tension between the American parties. Also, though, Prime Minister Netanyahu has a lot to gain from his show of Israeli strength against perceived Iranian aggression and what he sees as American capitulation. As The Economist points out, Netanyahu “could not have hoped for a better soapbox.” Even the title of the article, “An Israeli campaigning in America,” underscores the vast domestic importance that this foreign policy speech will have for Netanyahu’s political future. Thus, the foreign policies of both America and Israel are highlighting the domestic political divides in each country. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech will certainly hold symbolic value. However, the real value for foreign policy will come not from Tuesday’s speech but rather from the proceedings of Secretary of State Kerry’s negotiations with Iran this week.


[Image Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2718758/Israeli-leader-Netanyahu-approached-US-lawmakers-help-avoid-war-crimes-charges-Palestinian-civilian-deaths.html]