Netanyahu speech invitation a breach of protocol, James Baker says

Former Secretary of State James Baker said Sunday that House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in March is a breach of diplomatic protocol.

"I can't remember an instance in which it's been done," said Baker, who served as secretary of state to former President George H.W. Bush, on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"The speaker of the House has every right in the world to invite whoever he wants to speak to the House; it's a coequal branch of government," Baker added. But, he said, "the executive branch of government really has the primary power and responsibility and authority to conduct the nation's foreign policy. It's not in the Congress, it's in the executive branch. So our foreign policy benefits when there's cooperation and so does the issue of U.S.-Israeli relations."

President Obama will not meet with Netanyahu during the visit to avoid the appearance of influencing the election. And Baker predicted that the speech could backfire on Netanyahu in Israel's March 17 elections.

As an example, he pointed to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who he said was unable to overcome a challenge from his success, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, because Shamir he struggled to manage the U.S.-Israel relationship.

"Nothing is more important to the citizens of Israel than to know that their leadership is properly managing the relationship with their most important ally," Baker said.

In a separate interview on "Face the Nation," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said the "political grandstanding" by Boehner and Netanyahu was not in the best interest of Israel.

"We have a strong relationship, a strong alliance with Israel. For the speaker to decide to go at it alone and to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu without consulting with the White House was a mistake," Durbin said. Some of his closest friends in the U.S. who support Israel have called the strategy a "disaster," he said.

Durbin also said that Democrats are "troubled" by the invitation, but don't want to "show any weakness in terms of our commitment to Israel" by not attending Netanyahu's speech.

"I hope we can find a way to stabilize the situation quickly and take the politics out of it," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.