PM shakes hands with US congresspeople 311 (R).
(photo credit:REUTERS/Jason Reed)
During his speech to AIPAC on Monday, Binyamin Netanyahu had promised that, the next day, in his address to a joint meeting of Congress, he would “outline a vision for a secure Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
If this prompted some to speculate that the prime minister was about to unveil a series of dramatic new policies, then Tuesday’s rapturously received oration will have sorely disappointed them.
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It featured the declarations that “we will be very
generous on the size of a future Palestinian state... We recognize that a
Palestinian state must be big enough to be viable, independent and prosperous,”
and the curious sentence that “some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s
borders.” But the prime minister put little flesh on the bones of his reiterated
This, rather, was Netanyahu shoring up his home base.
This was Netanyahu preaching to the choir.
And this was Netanyahu, with
sufficient verbal dexterity to avoid open conflict with Barack Obama, filling in
some of the gaps, and correcting some of the misconceptions, he perceives in the
president’s Israeli-Palestinian outlook.
While emphasizing a readiness
for “painful compromise,” he mounted an anguished defense of the Jewish people’s
attachment to the disputed land – a defense he evidently felt needed to be
mounted, this week, after Obama unveiled a recipe for new negotiations based on
amended 1967 lines.
“In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not
We are not the British in India. We are not the
Belgians in the Congo,” Netanyahu declared. “This is the land of our
forefathers, the Land of Israel... No distortion of history can deny the
4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.”
Obama had indicated, but chosen not to specify, that the Palestinians will have
to abandon the demand for a “right of return,” Netanyahu was emphatic. The
Palestinians, he noted, “continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one
day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees... This must come to
an end. President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my
people...and I said, ‘I will accept a Palestinian state.’ It is time for
President Abbas to stand before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish
state.’ Those six words will change history.”
And where Obama, especially
in his AIPAC address, had all-but negated the notion of Israel being asked to
negotiate with a Palestinian leadership that included Hamas, Netanyahu left no
room for doubt and went onto the offensive.
“Tear up your pact with
Hamas,” he urged Abbas. “Sit down and negotiate! Make peace with the Jewish
state!” That brought him to one of the speech’s most compelling phrases, given
the Palestinian push for UN recognition of statehood, and prompted one of the
loudest and most prolonged of the 26 (CNN-counted) standing ovations: “And if you
do, I promise you this: Israel will not be the last country to welcome a
Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to
Before the applause had even died down, the Palestinian
representative to the United States, Maen Areikat, had dismissed Netanyahu’s
address as nothing new. The White House, which issued no public comment on last
week’s prime ministerial speech to the Knesset, may well feel much the same. A
Kadima MK, Yoel Hasson, rushed to call it an “election
Netanyahu won’t mind any of that in the slightest. The prime
minister had relished every moment, telling the political leadership of the
United States everything he wished their president was telling America and the
rest of the world.
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