With Biden missing Congress speech, Israeli opposition leaders call on Netanyahu to cancel it

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JERUSALEM — Israeli opposition leaders called Saturday on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his planned speech in front of the U.S. Congress, saying that it was endangering Israel's relationship with its most important ally.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said that instead of warning the world about Iran's nuclear program, the controversy around the speech had become damaging to Israeli-American ties. In the latest blow, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced he will miss the March 3 address because of unspecified foreign travel. The Obama administration is deeply irked that Netanyahu made his speaking plans with the Republicans and behind the White House's back.

The White House has criticized the move as a breach of diplomatic protocol and said President Barack Obama would not meet with Netanyahu during next month's visit. Obama and Netanyahu long have had a tense relationship, in part because of the Israeli leader's skepticism of the U.S.-led nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Biden, as president of the Senate, typically would have attended a joint meeting of Congress, taking his familiar seat just behind the speaker's podium.

Zehava Galon of the leftist Meretz party also called on Netanyahu to cancel his plans. Centrist leader Yair Lapid said the speech's fallout was "causing serious damage to Israel's strategic relations with the United States."

Meanwhile, former Israeli Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit joined a group of former top security officials calling on Israel's leadership to do more to pursue peace with the Palestinians.

Speaking to Israel's Channel 2 TV, Shavit said Israel should say it accepts the long-dormant 2002 Arab peace plan, which offered comprehensive peace with the Arab world in exchange for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The plan hasn't been given serious consideration since it was floated in the midst of a violent Palestinian uprising more than a decade ago.

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