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US House Speaker set to invite Netanyahu to address Congress

Netanyahu speaking in Feb 2024
Netanyahu speaking in Feb 2024

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson will invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.

Mr Johnson, who leads the Republican-controlled House, told CNBC they are "trying to work out schedules".

The news comes as the relationship between Israeli leaders and leading US Democrats has grown tense.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer has called for Israeli voters to replace Mr Netanyahu, who he has deemed a barrier to peace talks in Gaza.

"I would love to have him come in and address a joint session of Congress," Mr Johnson told the network on Thursday. "We'll certainly extend that invitation."

He added that he had personally been invited to address Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset, calling it a "great honour".

Mr Schumer, who is Jewish and a supporter of Israel, delivered a 40-minute speech on the Senate floor last week calling for Israel to hold new elections to replace Mr Netanyahu.

He criticised Mr Netanyahu and his conservative government for his handling of the war in Gaza, saying he "has lost his way" and argued that he stands in the way of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr Johnson on Thursday criticised him for those remarks.

"To suggest to our strongest ally in the Middle East, the only stable democracy, that he knows better how to run their democracy is just patently absurd," he said.

In response to Mr Johnson, Mr Schumer's office released a statement saying he did not object to an address by Mr Netanyahu.

"Israel has no stronger ally than the United States and our relationship transcends any one president or any one prime minister," Mr Schumer said.

"I will always welcome the opportunity for the prime minister of Israel to speak to Congress in a bipartisan way."

Mr Johnson's comments on the invitation come a day after Mr Netanyahu delivered remarks behind closed doors to Republicans in the Senate. Mr Schumer turned down a request from Mr Netanyahu to speak to Senate Democrats, saying any address should be done in a bipartisan fashion.

Mr Netanyahu last spoke to the US Congress in 2015, when both chambers were controlled by Republicans. He used the opportunity to criticise then President Barack Obama, a Democrat, for pursuing a deal with US allies and Iran to curtail that country's nuclear programme.

Mr Netanyahu's possible address also comes as an aid bill for Israel appears to have stalled in Congress and as Israel prepares for an operation in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that Palestinian refugees have fled to.

An Israeli delegation is due to visit Washington to discuss the planned assault next week, according to US officials. They were invited by President Joe Biden, who has attempted to discourage Israel from going through with the operation, in a recent call with Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Biden, who is running for re-election in November, has come under political pressure from his party's left wing to do more to convince Israel to limit its war in Gaza, which began when Hamas gunmen stormed into southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 250 others hostage.

More than 31,000 Palestinian civilians have died since the war started, according to the Hamas-led health ministry in Gaza. The death toll has drawn international concern and condemnation.

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