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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Following the speeches delivered concurrently on Sunday night by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu at the Herzliya Conference and Labor chairman Amir Peretz at Labor's Jerusalem convention, the political pundits rushed to declare that both prime ministerial candidates have shifted toward the political center to attract wavering voters.
Don't believe them.
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The clips played on the nightly news following the speeches showed Netanyahu using the words "real concessions" and Peretz the words "strong and united Jerusalem." But if you listened carefully to the rest of the speeches, you would notice that neither candidate had a sudden centrist epiphany.
Netanyahu will be crowned a born-again dove for saying that a Likud-led government would not reoccupy or annex Palestinian populated areas and that he would even agree to remove unauthorized outposts and remove military checkpoints. But his advisers said that minimizing friction with the Palestinians has been part of the Likud platform since 1979, which Netanyahu implemented when he was prime minister.
"It's amazing and shocking how people's perception of Bibi's agenda is so devoid of reality," a Netanyahu associate said. "He was trying to reveal his true self and counter the propaganda against him that he is a right-wing extremist."
The advisers explained that unlike Kadima and Labor, which would immediately negotiate with the Palestinians after the election, the Likud would first act to secure Israel's borders, which means shifting the security fence eastward, settling the Jordan Valley and the Judean desert and expanding the settlement blocs.
So Netanyahu is willing to make concessions, but there are several ifs: 1. There has to be a responsible Palestinian leadership to negotiate with. 2. Negotiations have to be based on reciprocity, which means the Palestinians will have to disarm, expel or kill the terrorists. 3. The Palestinians will have to agree to the "security borders" that Netanyahu has set as his red lines in advance of any negotiations. 4. The Palestinians must not object to Netanyahu's plan to move the security barrier eastward onto land that the Supreme Court ruled Palestinian territory. 5. The Palestinians accept Israel building in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim and expanding the settlement blocs. And if that all goes well, Netanyahu's peace deal must still pass a national referendum.
Peretz didn't exactly become a centrist overnight, either. He said in his speech that he would "keep Jerusalem strong and united," but in the same sentence, he said he would ensure a Jewish majority - a code word for ceding the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as called for in Labor's platform.
The Labor chairman will elaborate on Monday night in his address at the Herzliya Conference, which unlike Sunday's speech, will focus entirely on diplomatic and security issues. The fact that in the Labor convention the speech was so focused on socio-economic issues shows that Peretz has not accepted advice to start speaking about the entire spectrum of relevant issues. A spokesman for Peretz said that defying expectations, at Monday's event, Peretz will resist pressure and not wear a tie.
Peretz tried to present an image of unity at the event. He even had Labor's candidates hold hands. But the show of unity was short-lived.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, Peretz's nemesis, came to the event to criticize Labor's platform. Disgruntled Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer grimaced for the cameras during Peretz's speech. And Meimad's Rabbi Michael Melchior avoided holding MK Colette Avital's hand during the love-fest.
So while the pundits talk about Netanyahu and Peretz as the new centrists, look right and left before you cross that street. You will still find them there.