Netanyahu lowers expectations for Israeli-Palestinian peace

Analysis: Speaking at venue where he recognized the two state solution in 2009, in 2013 Netanyahu takes a different angle and emphasizes the root of the conflict: The Palestinians don't want Jews to live in Israel.

Netanyahu speaking at Begin-Sadat Center 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Begin-Sadat Center)
Netanyahu speaking at Begin-Sadat Center 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Begin-Sadat Center)
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 territory.
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 propaganda.
Jews still didn’t have a state then. There were no West Bank settlements.
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 May.
Not only is Netanyahu lowering expectations for peace in 2014, his speech puts the onus of failed negotiations squarely on the Palestinians’ shoulders.
It’s so simple, the prime minister is saying.
All you 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.
At least 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.