Republican Senator John McCain on Sunday said that the relationship between the United States and Israel is “the worst that I've ever seen in my lifetime”.
Speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union” program, McCain admitted that President Barack Obama is not the only one to blame for the tensions, but also said that Obama has “unrealistic expectations” of Israel.
The relationship between Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is “poor, as we know”, said McCain, adding, “And it's the worst that I've ever seen in my lifetime. And that in itself is a tragedy because it's the only functioning democracy in the entire Middle East.”
Asked why he thought the relationship is the worst he’s seen, the Arizona Senator replied, “I think because the president had very unrealistic expectations about the degree of cooperation that he would get from Israel, particularly, on the Palestinian issue, as well as the nuclear issue with Iran.”
He continued, “And it – I'm not putting the entire blame on the president of the United States, but I will say this, no other president has had such a difficult relationship with the state of Israel since it became a country.”
The interviewer, Dana Bash, pointed out that former President George H.W. Bush “didn't have the greatest relations at times” with Israel either, and McCain replied, “No, he didn't. But at the same time it never reached this level. I agree with you about Bush 41. I remember when Jim Baker testified before Congress, ‘if they want to call me, my number is 202.’ I remember that.
“But the relations with Israel have not always been excellent. But I think any observer would argue they've never been worse,” he added.
Addressing the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress, which has become a point of contention between Democrats and Republicans, McCain said it was not surprising that the invitation to Netanyahu was extended without informing the White House.
“I think that given the way that relations are between the president and the speaker and the majority leader, Senator McConnell, it's not surprising. Obviously we would want everybody to work together,” he said.
“But there's a real crisis going on,” continued McCain, “and that is these negotiations with Iran, which many of us believe are already fatally flawed, that the speaker felt the overriding concern was to have him appear before the American people and tell them about the dangers of a very bad agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons.”
“Obviously I would have talked to the White House. But I may have – and I hate to put myself in these leaders' place, but I might have at least informed them, but I certainly agree that you don't need their permission, given the state of relations,” he added.
House Speaker John Boehner raised eyebrows two weeks ago when he announced that Netanyahu had accepted his invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress – an invitation extended without consulting Democratic leaders in Congress or the White House.
Boehner defended the action, saying Congress has every right, as a separate branch of government, to operate without the administration's input.
The White House originally gave an icy response to news that Netanyahu was invited to address Congress, saying it was a departure from diplomatic protocol. It later made clear that neither Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry would meet Netanyahu while he is in Washington, explaining that American policy is not to meet foreign leaders on dates that are close to national elections in their countries.
McCain has been one of Obama’s fiercest critics over his foreign policy in general and his treatment of Israel in particular.
Last year, McCain spoke of Obama and said, "I thought Jimmy Carter was bad, but he pales in comparison to this president in my view."