Analysis: A solid speech - delivered a month too late

In diplomacy, as in war, it is always better to strike first.

netanyahu leaves stage speech 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu leaves stage speech 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday was the prisoner of unrealistic expectations that he himself created. "The address of his life," thundered a front page headline in Sunday's Yediot Aharonot, reflecting the disproportionate buildup that preceded Netanyahu's speech, in which he finally said what he and his advisers have been hinting at for months: yes to a Palestinian state-minus, on condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Truth be told, there was little the prime minister could have said to warrant the type of buildup this speech engendered, one that would have been suited for Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, or David Ben-Gurion's declaration of statehood. But Netanyahu's speech, though interesting in its narrative, and fresh in that it was the first time he publicly nodded to a Palestinian state, was void of that "wow" moment that the pre-speech buildup had created. What he said - that Israel needed international guarantees for a demilitarized Palestinian state, that he would not stop building in the settlements, that Jerusalem would remain the united capital of Israel - could have been stated at other venues, without all the hype. But for whatever reason - perhaps a desire to copy US President Barack Obama - the Prime Minister's Office decided that they needed an "event." It would not be enough, they determined, to say these words in the Knesset, or at one of any numerous speeches that Netanyahu could have given at any number of venues where he is routinely invited to appear. No, they wanted something more dramatic. The problem with opting for drama is that it creates expectations that, if not met, will leave many people disappointed. If you don't rise to the expectations, if you don't create a wow moment, then you flop. There is nothing, really, that Netanyahu said on Sunday evening that he could not have said just prior to his trip to Washington a month ago, or even after that visit, but before Obama delivered his Cairo address. The parameters that Netanyahu charted on Sunday night at the BESA Center at Bar-Ilan University were the same parameters his closest advisers were talking about immediately after he was sworn in as prime minister on March 31. Had Netanyahu delivered this address in May, it would have been seen as a fresh initiative - the new prime minister laying out his own new plan. Now, however, it came across as an attempt - after weeks of public quibbling with Washington - to positively respond to Obama, to throw the ball back into the US's and the Palestinians' court. But by being forced to respond, Netanyahu was also inevitably going to disappoint. In this case the disappointment will be primarily among those on the right, who will say he gave into Obama, that he capitulated to American dictates. And there will also be disappointment in the US administration, where there will be those who will say that he did not go far enough, that he did not give Obama what he wanted or expected. The prime minister gave a solid speech - finally putting out for all to see where he wanted to go; no longer speaking in hints or with nods and winks. He gingerly balanced his domestic political situation with the need to maintain a strong working relationship with the US, especially in light of the Iranian situation. He also politely - and importantly at the beginning of both his and Obama's term - told the US president that there were certain things that Israel could not do, despite America's wishes. All that was significant. The problem is that it all could, and should, have been said a month ago, ensuring that Israel would have maintained the initiative, and that it would have been the proactive - not reactive - party. In diplomacy, as in war, it is always good to strike first.