Analysis: Preaching, eloquently, to the choir

The prime minister told the US Congress everything he thinks Obama should be telling America and the world.

May 24, 2011 21:35
3 minute read.
PM shakes hands with US congresspeople

PM shakes hands with US congresspeople 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)


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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 two-state vision.

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 foreign occupiers.

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.”

Where 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 do so.”

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 commercial.”

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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