PM to outline peace vision in speech next week

'Post' learns Begin-Sadat Center was approached by PM aide with request to host foreign policy address.

netanyahu at cabinet 248.88 (photo credit: )
netanyahu at cabinet 248.88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will deliver a major policy address in Ramat Gan next Sunday, during which he is expected to address two central points of contention with the Obama administration: settlement construction and a two-state solution. The speech is scheduled to take place at the Begin Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, a think tank where he has spoken on numerous occasions in the past. The Jerusalem Post has learned that National Security Council head Uzi Arad approached the BESA Center on Friday and asked if it would host the address. The BESA Center had been asking Netanyahu to come speak since his election in February. The prime minister will reportedly discuss options for a demilitarized Palestinian state, including the "Andorra Plan," modeled on the prosperous, landlocked democracy located in the Pyrenees mountains. Responsibility for defending Andorra rests with Spain and France. Andorra has a very limited, nominal military force, used for ceremonial purposes only. Sources close to Netanyahu said he was becoming increasingly frustrated that people were "putting words in his mouth," and felt the time had come to lay out where he planned to lead the country in the realm of foreign policy, diplomacy and security. The last time he addressed these issues in a structured format was when he was sworn in as prime minister on March 31. In that Knesset speech, he laid out a three-pronged policy toward moving the process forward with the Palestinians that included enhanced economic and security cooperation, as well as diplomatic negotiations. Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday's cabinet meeting that in recent days he had read and heard things attributed to him that he simply never said. "I would like to make it clear: We want to achieve peace with the Palestinians and with the countries of the Arab world, while attempting to reach maximum understanding with the US and our friends around the world," he said. "My aspiration is to achieve a stable peace that rests on a solid foundation of security for the State of Israel and its citizens. "Next week, I will make a major diplomatic speech in which I will present the citizens of Israel with our principles for achieving peace and security. Ahead of the speech, I intend to listen to the opinions of the coalition partners and other elements among the Israeli public." Netanyahu is expected to present the public with his diplomatic blueprint, something many thought he was going to do when he met with US President Barack Obama last month. The prime minister has come under a great deal of criticism for not initiating a diplomatic plan of his own at that time, and being forced to react to other initiatives and speeches. The choice of BESA as the site of the speech is seen as significant, since - as one government source said, pointing to Obama's recent speech in Cairo - "location obviously matters." The BESA Center is a respected institution that has connections with a number of other top-tier think tanks around the world. It identifies itself as center-right on the political spectrum, and in recent years has swum against the popular tide among the country's intelligentsia. For instance, the head of the center, Efraim Inbar, recently published a paper on "The Rise and Demise of the Two-State Paradigm." "The two-state paradigm has a long pedigree and current popularity in contemporary academic and diplomatic circles, but it has no chance of achieving a stable and peaceful outcome in the coming decades," Inbar wrote in the treatise, released in January. "It is an obsolete paradigm." Instead, Inbar called for a "regional approach" to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy whereby Palestinian areas would be linked again to Egypt and Jordan, and the conflict would be "managed - not solved." The BESA center has been trying to get the prime minister to deliver a speech there since February, and hoped to land him for an address at a conference on US-Israeli relations in early May. A number of US Jewish organizational leaders turned to Netanyahu at the time and urged him to make a policy address then, saying he was waiting too long to spell out his ideas, and a dangerous vacuum was being created. Netanyahu turned the invitation down, saying that a policy review was still under way and he was not yet ready. There was a great deal of expectation that he would spell out his diplomatic plan in his meeting with Obama, speculation fueled by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who in visits to Europe just before Netanyahu's Washington trip said that everyone would be wiser about where the prime minister was headed after he went to Washington. That expectation failed to materialize. He has since come under a great deal of criticism for failing to put something "Israeli" on the table, instead being relegated to reacting to Obama's words and to various ideas being floated by Arab leaders. The prime minister's decision to present his foreign policy plan at the BESA Center rather than in the Knesset was met by disapproval on Sunday among both coalition and opposition lawmakers, and on both the Right and the Left, as MKs blasted the further erosion of the legislature's role. Forty MKs signed a petition calling on Netanyahu to participate in a discussion on foreign policy in the Knesset plenum. Although such a petition obligates the prime minister to appear before the legislature, it seems near certain he will only do so after he presents his policy outline at the Begin-Sadat Center. MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin in which he asked him to intervene for the good of the Knesset and to convince Netanyahu to deliver what could become a seminal speech on the Knesset floor, and not at a university. "It cannot be that the prime minister will choose just any public platform when it is a question of a diplomatic speech of the highest importance in which he intends to explain his security and diplomatic policy," wrote the former IDF spokesman. "As someone who carefully guards the status and the honor of the Knesset, I ask to make sure that the speech will be delivered on the most important public stage in Israel." Rivlin, who has a long history of opposing the "outsourcing" of important public announcements to arenas outside of the Knesset - such as the Herzliya Conference - responded to Shai's and others' complaints, defending but not supporting Netanyahu's decision. "I understand the prime minister's desire to present his plan at the Begin-Sadat Center, with all of the symbolism implied in it, but I will not move from my traditional stance that the Knesset, as the arena of argument and determination, is the only place to present diplomatic programs, and any process that has such wide implications for the State of Israel and her citizens," said Rivlin. "The prime minister would do well to present his plan in the Knesset, and not to continue the tradition started by those who preceded him," he said. Other lawmakers were less generous in their understanding of Netanyahu's decision. MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) accused him of continuing the weakening of the Knesset by prime ministers who preferred to deliver key speeches before sympathetic audiences. And from the other side of the political spectrum, MK Uri Ariel (National Union) accused Netanyahu of hiding behind the lecturer's podium at the right-leaning university.