Netanyahu Heads to Washington for 'Historic Mission' to 'Guarantee Israel's Future'

Focal point of Netanyahu's visit will be his controversial speech to Congress; 'I'm an emissary of all the Jewish people, even those who don't agree with me,' PM says.

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A screenshot from YouTube of Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu before heading to Washington, D.C., March 1, 2015.
A screenshot from YouTube of Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu before heading to Washington, D.C., March 1, 2015.
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington on Sunday ahead of his controversial speech to Congress.

"Today, on the eve of the Fast of Esther, I'm embarking on a historic mission," the prime minister said before boarding the plane. "I feel like the emissary of all the people of Israel, even those who don't agree with me.

"I am profoundly concerned about the fate of Israel and our people. I will do everything in my power to guarantee our future," Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu is expected to participate in the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference on Monday, but the focal point of his trip will be his speech to Congress, which will take place on Tuesday at 11:00 A.M. Washington time (6 P.M. Israel time).

Netanyahu will address the talks between the world powers and Iran over the latter's nuclear program. The speech has aroused controversy and drawn harsh criticism both in Israel and in the United States, and has tainted the relationship between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

Many Democratic congressmen have announced that they will not be present during the speech, which was planned by House Speaker John Boehner without coordination with the White House.

Netanyahu will not meet with Obama or with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit. He is, however, scheduled to have a closed meeting with the Senate leaders. According to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu accepted the invitation extended by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid to discuss the unfolding agreement with Iran in a closed and bipartisan forum.

According to reports, Netanyahu turned down an invitation to meet with Democratic senators during his visit, so as not to exacerbate the storm surrounding his trip and the "mistaken partisan perception" of his speech, as he put it.

On Monday, Netanyahu will address the AIPAC convention, at 10 A.M. Washington time (5:00 P.M. Israel time). Later in the day, Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, will address the conference as the representative of the White House. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is also scheduled to speak during the conference, which began Sunday and continues until Tuesday.

Although Rice and Power are members of Obama's cabinet, this is a relatively low level of representation for the U.S. administration compared to previous years. Speakers at the most recent AIPAC conferences included President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and the secretaries of defense and the treasury.

Netanyahu is schedule to fly back to Israel on Tuesday afternoon. 

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