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Netanyahu Looks to Boost US Support    07/24 06:13

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before Congress 
Wednesday in hopes of bolstering U.S. support for continuing Israel's fight 
against Hamas and other adversaries, even as the Biden administration is urging 
him to focus on closing a deal ending the devastating nine-month war in Gaza.

   Netanyahu is assured a warm welcome from Republican lawmakers who arranged 
his speech in the House chamber, an appearance making him the first foreign 
leader to address a joint meeting of Congress four times, surpassing Winston 
Churchill.

   But many Democrats and independents plan to boycott his appearance. The most 
notable absences will be behind Netanyahu as Vice President Kamala Harris, who 
serves as president of the Senate and traditionally would sit behind whatever 
dignitary is speaking, says a long-scheduled trip will keep her away. The next 
Democrat in line, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, is declining to attend.

   Republicans targeted the absence of Harris -- the new Democratic 
front-runner for the presidency -- as a sign of disloyalty to an ally. But 
Donald Trump's running-mate, JD Vance, said campaigning would also make him a 
no-show for the Israeli leader's speech.

   And outside the Capitol, demonstrators angry over the deaths of nearly 
40,000 Palestinians, or over Netanyahu's inability to free Israeli and American 
hostages, are promising massive protests.

   In anticipation, House Speaker Mike Johnson warned of a "zero-tolerance 
policy" for any signs of disturbances in the Capitol building. "It is our 
tradition to acknowledge every guest speaker's right to free expression even if 
we disagree with their viewpoint," the Louisiana Republican wrote to members 
Tuesday.

   Johnson arranged the address, an honor that marks both the two countries' 
historically warm bonds and the political weight that support for Israel has 
long carried in U.S. politics. But the attention for the visit has been 
diminished some by American political turmoil of recent weeks, including the 
assassination attempt against Trump and President Joe Biden's decision not to 
seek another term.

   Netanyahu hopes to project the image of a tough, respected statesman for an 
increasingly critical domestic audience back home in Israel. That may be 
difficult given the wide division among Americans over Netanyahu's conduct of 
the war.

   Many Democrats who support Israel but have been critical of Netanyahu see 
the address as a Republican effort to cast itself as the party most loyal to 
Israel and to provide the prime minister with a much-needed political reprieve.

   "I don't know all the motivations for Speaker Johnson initiating the 
invitation but clearly he wanted to throw a political lifeline to Netanyahu 
whose popularity is very low in Israel right now," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, among 
the dozens of Democrats set to boycott, said Tuesday.

   Netanyahu also is to meet with Biden and Harris on Thursday, and Trump at 
Mar-a-Lago on Friday.

   The United States is Israel's most important ally, arms supplier and source 
of military aid as Israel battles to break Hamas since the group attacked 
Israel on Oct. 7. Netanyahu's visit is his first abroad since the war started, 
and comes under the shadow of arrest warrants sought against him by the 
International Criminal Court over alleged Israel war crimes against 
Palestinians. The United States does not recognize the ICC.

   Netanyahu says his aims for the U.S. visit are to press for freeing hostages 
held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, to build support for continuing 
Israel's battle against the group, and to argue for continuing to confront 
Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Iranian-allied groups in the region. The U.S., 
France and others are seeking to calm border fighting between Hezbollah and 
Israel, fearing a larger war.

   Netanyahu in his speech also may address a new China-brokered deal between 
Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah to form a government together. The 
agreement was an attempt to resolve a rivalry that could make it even harder 
for Palestinians to secure a role governing Gaza whenever the war ends. Israel 
immediately denounced the pact, and State Department spokesman Matthew Miller 
called Hamas a terror group that should have no role in governing Palestinians.

   Some Democrats are wary about Netanyahu, who used a 2015 joint address to 
Congress to denounce then-President Barack Obama's pending nuclear deal with 
Iran. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said he does not expect 
Wednesday's speech to be a repeat of 2015's.

   As the prime minister speaks, multiple protests are planned in and around 
the Capitol. The largest is set for Wednesday morning, with organizers planning 
to march around the Capitol demanding Netanyahu's arrest on war crimes charges. 
Relatives of Israeli hostages are planning a vigil on the National Mall.

 
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