Was Netanyahu right to rebuff Obama?

The humiliation of 1948 and the call to redeem lost honor is more exigent for the Palestinians than the call for a peace offensive. In this context, the PM had no choice but to dispel illusions in his speech to Congress.

By
June 1, 2011 14:44
Netanyahu addresses Congress, Tuesday

Netanyahu congress 311. (photo credit: Screenshot)

In his latest speech to the American Congress, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claimed that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.

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Netanyahu added that as long as the Palestinian Arabs continue to perpetuate their fantasy that the Jewish state will cease to exist, there could be no peace between them and Israel.

He was right.

The conflict is not about the pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps. It has always been about the pre-1947 border - when there was none.


The Palestinians have been unwilling to end the conflict. Had they been interested in a peaceful two-state  solution, they would have abandoned their demand for the right of return; they would have agreed to settle the refugee problem within the confines of an  independent, occupation-free Palestinian state. They would have stopped educating their children to hate. They would have ceased naming public squares after terrorists; they would not have fired anti-tank missiles on Israeli school busses, rockets and mortar on civilians, or (even) on the Israeli military; they would have worked tirelessly to gain Israel’s trust.

But they've done nothing of the sort.

There is no logic behind the Palestinians’ great grandchildren’s insistence on “returning” to Israel - a land they have never stepped a foot on, a land as foreign to them as Guatemala. Why would any Palestinian Arab want to leave his or her newly established, democratic, free country and come to live under what they refer to as an “apartheid-practicing” Jewish government? It defies reason. Unless, of course, Israel has no Jewish government, no Jewish majority and it is no longer a Jewish state.



Palestinians perceive a peace agreement with Israel as a document formalizing their unconditional surrender. Their humiliating defeat in 1948, in which they watched the Jewish people establish a Jewish state on land they considered Islamic, was a shameful chapter in their history and one that they are simply unable to shake off. That humiliation and the corresponding urge to redeem the lost honor is more commanding than the sensible strategy of calling for a peace offensive.

Some cool-headed Arab leaders have claimed that the peace process can serve as a smoke screen in pursuit of what had been defined as the Salami Principle - one slice at a time. It boils down to putting international pressure on Israel to weaken itself through a series of withdrawals to earlier borders, preceding the final assault on what’s left of the Jewish state whose indefensible borders would make it an easy prey. And in the Arab Middle East, reclaiming a lost honor overshadows straightforward logic.

Focusing on the pre-1967 borders as the main issue for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like using sterile needles for lethal injections, or playing video ballgames on your Xbox and calling it physical exercise.

Considering the apparent irrelevance, why did Netanyahu - while gazing into US President Barack Obama’s private thoughts - make the pre-1967 border the centerpiece of his argument? Why didn’t the Israeli PM try to call the Palestinians’ bluff by agreeing to the fake notion?

“Yes Mr. President,” Netanyahu could have declared. “Let’s restart the peace process from the pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps,” trusting the other side to derail any meaningful negotiations, then be blamed for the failure once they insist on including Hamas at or behind the negotiating table?

Had Netanyahu swallowed the pill served by Obama, even though analysis had deemed it a placebo, it might have undermined his job. His coalition partners would have abandoned him, likening him to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the loser who wrongly believed that appeasing an aggressor would bring about peace.

Had Netanyahu followed Obama’s lead he might have run the risk that the Palestinians, including Hamas, would have played along by resorting to deception, by whispering a ”yes” (in English) to negotiations. They would have employed Obama’s proposal as a fresh starting point - blessed by the US president and endorsed by the Israeli PM - in preparation for a full-scale implementation of the Salami Principle.

The seeming gap between Obama’s and Netanyahu’s approaches to peace with the Palestinians yanks its intensity from their knowledge of history as it relates to their personal experiences and risk assessment.

Netanyahu has plenty of reasons for placing mistrust in the Palestinians. He remembers that Israeli withdrawals from territories occupied during defensive wars have always been met by Arab deadly aggression in return. It was true in the West Bank following the Oslo accord when suicide bombing inside Israeli cities became a daily affair; it was true following Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon when Hezbollah took over the territory and began shooting rockets at Israeli towns. And it was true all over again following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

Netanyahu knows what the Palestinians’ true goals are; he knows that the peace process is a smoke screen, designed to mask their true intentions. On the other hand, Obama - like Nixon and Kissinger before him when negotiating peace with the North Vietnamese - is looking for a short-term stress relief.

If the peace agreement turns into a fiasco, if it is proven hollow, or if the concluding handshakes around the negotiating table were intended to relax and weaken Israel’s (or US’s) guards, making the final assault by the Arabs (or by the North Vietnamese in Kissinger’s case) more effective, then it’s a problem. But it’s somebody else’s problem. From an American point of view, the promise of peace is worth the risk since the true burden of facing the potential catastrophic consequences is borne by someone else, by someone far away from home.

Netanyahu was right to reject President Obama’s approach. He understood that further Israeli concessions toward peace with the Palestinians would only bring about more violence in return. He understood that the Palestinians’ talk about a peace process is unmistakably consistent with their view of the Salami Principle, while their Islamic teaching forbids treatment of Jews as worthy human beings. He understood that peace with the Palestinians or a two-state solution, living peacefully side by side is nothing more than a mirage - an illusion endorsed by the US president. Netanyahu understands that ultimately it will be Israel, not the US, that will bear the catastrophic consequences of making premature concessions.

Netanyahu had no other choice but to push back. The reaction delivered by the US Congress proved him right.

Well done, Mr. Prime Minister!

The writer is currently a talk show host at Paltalk News Network (PNN). He served as an intelligence expert for the Israeli government and was a professor at Northwestern University. He is the author of Fundamentals of Voice Quality Engineering in Wireless Networks, and more recently, 72 Virgins. Both books can be purchased at www.aviperry.org.


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