In the very public debate between Israel and the Palestinians over the document US Secretary of State John Kerry is laboring to produce, one important question to ask is, when will the sides stop bickering about it and start marketing it to their respective publics? Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began doing just that in his speech Tuesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Had one listened to this speech with eyes closed and Netanyahu’s voice altered to prevent identification, one could have heard the prime minister’s comments about peace dividends and sworn that the speaker was Kerry himself.
“Peace would be good for us. Peace would be good for the Palestinians,” he said.
“But peace would also open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world.”
For months Kerry, as well as US President Barack Obama, have implored the sides not only to look at the risks of reaching an agreement, but also the benefits.
Time after time Kerry has talked about the Arab Peace Initiative, and how once an agreement with the Palestinians was sealed, Israel would have normal relations with 57 Islamic and Arab countries.
“Think of the possibilities,” he continuously urges.
Though Netanyahu surely has thought of these possibilities in the past, he has never come out and actually talked about them in public in the manner he did on Tuesday. In recent months when he spoke about Israel’s relations with the Arab world, it was always in the context of various Arab leaders agreeing privately with Israel’s position that Iran must not be allowed to gain nuclear capabilities.
“When the Arabs and Israel agree on something,” he has said often over the last few months, “the world should listen.”
But his comments about the Arab world on Tuesday were of a different nature altogether. The voice was the voice of Netanyahu, but the words were the words of President Shimon Peres... or at least so it seemed.
“Many Arab leaders – and believe me, this is a fact, not a hypothesis, it’s a fact – many Arab leaders today already realize that Israel is not their enemy, that peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships,” he said.
“The combination of Israeli innovation and Gulf entrepreneurship, to take one example – I think this combination could catapult the entire region forward,” he said, sounding like a salesman for the New Middle East. “We could solve the water problems.
We could solve the energy problems. We could improve agriculture.
We could improve education with e-learning, health with diagnostics on the Internet. All of that is possible.
We could better the lives of hundreds of millions. So we all have so much to gain from peace.”
Netanyahu then served up his more standard fare: that the Palestinians need to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, that there will be no compromise on Israel’s security and that one can never be too careful in the dangerously changing Middle East.
But one should not ignore that part of the speech where he waxed on about visions of peace, something that up until now has been lacking in his public remarks about the negotiations.
That it appeared precisely on Tuesday, in front of 14,000 AIPAC supporters and thousands of others watching him back home in Israel, might be an indication that a US framework document enabling the continuation of the talks is closer than some people think, and that the prime minister is beginning to market it.
But if, as Netanyahu said upon arriving in Washington Sunday, it takes three – Israel, the US and the Palestinians – to dance this particular diplomatic tango, selling a possible deal will take two (the Americans are already sold): Israel and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu on Tuesday clearly went outside his comfort zone and began marketing the possibility of a deal to his people. An even stronger signal that something is moving will be if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does the same thing in remarks he may make next week after meeting Obama in the White House.