The last time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a speech at Bar-Ilan
University’s BESA Center for Strategic Studies, dozens of far-right protesters
picketed the event in anticipation of the prime minister making concessions –
and they were right.
In “Bar-Ilan Speech I” in 2009, Netanyahu agreed to
the formation of a Palestinian state for the first time.
On Sunday night,
ahead of “Bar-Ilan Speech II,” there was nary a protester in sight, signifying
the direction of things to come.
Netanyahu took a decidedly different
angle on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict in his second go-around at Bar-Ilan,
not conceding but standing his ground.
After repeating his assertions
that Iran is still developing nuclear weapons and wants to destroy Israel, he
went back to the topic he addressed last time he spoke to the BESA Center, the
Palestinians, and focused on “the root of the conflict.”
The root, he
said, is not the “so-called territories” or West Bank settlements. Palestinian
Arabs attacked Jews in Jaffa in 1921 and massacred Jews in Hebron, destroying an
ancient community. It wasn’t a territorial conflict then; Jews didn’t have any
Then the prime minister hammered the point home, by noting
that the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini was a partner and consultant to Hitler
and Eichmann; the latter even called the leader of Arabs in Mandatory Palestine
a friend. The mufti offered up Muslims as SS soldiers and broadcast Nazi
Jews still didn’t have a state then. There were no West Bank
The root of the conflict, Netanyahu clarified, is that the
Palestinians don’t want Jews to be in Israel. The Palestinian Authority says it
recognizes Israel, but that isn’t enough.
They need to recognize Israel
as the Jewish state and homeland of the Jewish people, and until that happens,
there cannot be peace.
Since the PA has yet to show a willingness to
recognize the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel, the prime minister is raining
on the parade of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, US Secretary of State John Kerry
and anyone else who thinks there can be a final-status peace agreement by
Not only is Netanyahu lowering expectations for peace in 2014, his
speech puts the onus of failed negotiations squarely on the Palestinians’
It’s so simple, the prime minister is saying.
have to do is give up your prejudice against us as Jews, and we can hold hands
and give peace a chance.
But there’s one more hitch – the Palestinians
have to give up their claim to the right of return.
Recognizing a Jewish
state but wanting to flood it with Palestinians is disingenuous and
contradictory, and cannot be part of any agreement Israel signs.
Livni agrees to that part – she has said that not one Palestinian refugee will
be allowed to return to Israel.
Netanyahu did not only send signals to
those hoping for a speedy and successful peace process; he was talking to his
party and his coalition as well.
After countless statements and
conferences and letters opposing the current round of peace talks and its goals,
Likud hard-liners like deputy ministers Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin and Tzipi
Hotovely can let out a sigh of relief, even though none of them – nor any other
Likud MK – sat in the audience to show support for the prime minister. Bayit
Yehudi surely feels like it can safely keep its seats in the coalition for a bit
longer as well.
The Netanyahu who wrote A Place Among the Nations, who
talked tough to the Palestinians, is still here. He may not have done what the
no-show protesters were praying for – renounce his commitment to a Palestinian
state – but he said settlements are not the enemy.