[Bibi blue] Binyamin Netanyahu 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I was once told by a world leader that a speech must convey either something new
or something old in a fundamentally different way. Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s upcoming address to a joint session of Congress must be the former,
and not merely a re-hash of old rhetoric.
Netanyahu’s speech is already
being billed as “Bar-Ilan II,” but although it must match the power of his 2009
address at Bar-Ilan University, it demands radically different content. With the
Middle East ablaze, Iran racing unchecked toward nuclear capability and its
proxy Hamas back in the Palestinian government, the world must be told that 2011
is not 2009.
Whereas two years ago, Netanyahu called for immediate peace
negotiations, he must now bluntly tell Congress that talk of Palestinian
statehood is simply off limits. The prime minister must use this historic
opportunity to quash the international community’s pipe dream of instantly
establishing a Palestinian state, and instead replace it with an honest
understanding that a deal at this point is out of the question.
It may be
unfashionable in many quarters, but in these deeply troubled times, the best
peace policy for Israel, the US and all democratic nations is to simply wait and
see. There are those who naively crave the familiar clichés about peace and
reconciliation, but using the congressional stage to simply repeat these
well-worn lines would be a wasted opportunity of historic proportion. With
northern Israel in the crosshairs of Hezbollah rockets, Egypt’s future uncertain
at best to our south, and Syria on the brink of chaos, we cannot possibly
conduct talks over relinquishing land to another perilous unknown in the shape
of a Palestinian state. The reality of the Fatah-Hamas coalition and its current
refusal to abandon violence or recognize the Jewish State of Israel makes
principled inaction imperative. Any negotiations at this point would be an act
of masochism at best, and simply suicidal at worst.
status quo is also in the best interests of the US, and in particular President
Barack Obama, who has contributed greatly to the uncertainty gripping the
region. After abandoning a lifelong ally, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and getting
stuck in no-man’s land in Libya, he finds himself a mere spectator as Bashar
Assad continues to massacre Syrian civilians unhindered – ensuring that the map
of the region adopts an increasingly dangerous complexion. The United States and
its Western allies can ill-afford to hand the terrorists of Hamas a foothold
just north of Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion International Airport, or a grip on
Netanyahu therefore finds himself presented with the perfect
stage to persuade his American hosts that now more than ever, patience is
required in the pursuit of regional peace. With the US presidential election
only a year away, Obama cannot afford another high-profile spat with Israel,
especially with Congress likely to lap up the Israeli prime minister’s every
word, reinforced by continued rock-solid US public support for the Jewish state.
There is little appetite for the kind of stand-off which saw Obama effectively
impose a building freeze on Netanyahu last year.
OF COURSE, Netanyahu’s
speech to Congress will not only be tailored to American ears, but will also be
designed for domestic Israeli consumption. The prime minister has been accused
of allowing Israel to become increasingly isolated on his watch. Winning
American support for a cautious diplomatic approach would go some way toward
answering his critics. Demonstrating a tough stance while on American soil
toward a Palestinian government terminally infected by Hamas would not only be
responsible, but prudent. It would help the prime minister solidify a
shaky public which had threatened to turn on him following the building freeze
that he implemented at Obama’s behest.
THERE ARE few bigger stages for
any prime minister than addressing a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu will
be the country’s only leader to have done so twice. The setting itself is
matched in importance only by the unfolding regional changes, presenting the
prime minister with a golden opportunity to deliver a definitive speech. The
feverish speculation of only a few weeks ago – that Netanyahu would use this
platform to announce a new peace initiative – is surely now the stuff of
fantasy. Yet the opportunity remains. Netanyahu must use this speech to outline
a whole new paradigm, sending a clear message to the world that the involvement
of Hamas, especially at a time of such wretched regional turmoil, must not be
rewarded. Now is simply not the time to create a Palestinian state that
would likely soon fall to extremists; Israeli security comes first.The
writer served as bureau chief to Binyamin Netanyahu, and is currently the
president of 3H Global Enterprise.