Dead end speech

Netanyahu's speech was eloquent and poignant. Yet it was also a blunt rejection of the parameters outlined in both of the US president's recent speeches.

Netanyahu addresses Congress 311 (photo credit: Avi Ohayun/GPO)
Netanyahu addresses Congress 311
(photo credit: Avi Ohayun/GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Tuesday speech at a joint session of Congress exhibited rich salesmanship but poor statesmanship. On the one hand, it was eloquent and poignant. Yet it was also a blunt rejection of the parameters outlined in both of President Barack Obama’s recent speeches. That being said, you play to your strengths and not to your weaknesses.
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Before elaborating on why I'm dumping ice on what some regarded as a triumphant speech, there are two fundamental elements that require reiteration.
The first is a truism in international relations, and in particular in Middle East peace-making. Namely, that nothing productive or durable ever emerges from either categorical public statements or flowery speeches. After all, there are two things in life that are best conducted in private and without fanfare. The second is Middle East negotiations.
The second element is substantive. The Palestinians cannot accept anything less than what was offered at Camp David in 2000 by former prime minister Ehud Barak and in the subsequently published "Clinton Parameters." It is also inconceivable that the Palestinians will accept any plan that falls short of what former prime minister Ehud Olmert and then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni reportedly offered in 2008.
Netanyahu cannot offer them more than the Camp David contours, and given their rejection of those offers and what has since transpired (a brutal intifada and the ascent of Hamas) nor can he even propose a similar deal.
Netanyahu's politics, ideological background, intellectual foundations, interpretation of history, and his grasp of Israel's geopolitical climate are prohibitive of such acceptance.
Those who thought that Netanyahu will be transformed into a Yossi Beilin are either disingenuous or delusional. He is a Likud prime minister who leads a right-wing coalition. What part of "Likud" or "Netanyahu" do the opposition, the Left and the pundits not understand?
This translates into a political equation that is simultaneously tragic and simple: The maximum Israel can offer does not meet, or even come close to the Palestinian minimum. The Israeli maximum does not essentially enable a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. The Palestinian demands are perceived as perilous to Israel and require the dismantling of dozens of settlements. Apart from that, the levels of distrust, suspicion and animosity are skyrocketing.
This is a classic example of impasse. In the world of the peace process, it is regarded as a problem that negotiations can solve. But why negotiate when you can simply deliver captivating but non-committal speeches to a ready audience that will never bear the burden of what you're expressing?
I'm stressing this reality not to make a political point, but to illustrate that in the context of Netanyahu’s analysis that such negotiations are futile, his speech was a strike-out. Yes, his movement and swing were meticulous, but nonetheless, he struck out royally. And he should have seen it coming.
On Thursday and again on Sunday, Obama presented the world with his vision. The overwhelming majority of the points he made were expressly pro-Israeli. US commitment to Israel; an unshakeable alliance intact and enhanced; Israel as a Jewish State; the Palestinian "September at the UN" initiative as silly and counterproductive; a non-militarized Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with consensual land swaps.
Rather than embrace these principles, Netanyahu chose to stage nothing less than a bizarre tirade at the White House on Friday, educating the president about the plight and pogroms of Jews throughout history.
Netanyahu interprets Jewish history as a series of tragedies and near-annihilations of our civilization. While not inaccurate, it is a patently pre and post Zionist narrative. Don't allow things like Dimona, F-15s, Dolphin-class submarines, the Weitzman Institute or Teva confuse you. According to the Pm, we’re on the brink of catastrophe.
Netanyahu chose the phrase "1967 lines" as a casus belli with Obama. 1967 is not the agenda, and nor did the president say anything different from what his predecessors have been saying since, well, 1967, when former president Lyndon Johnson endorsed UN Security Council Resolution 242.
In rejecting Obama's parameters, Netanyahu picked the wrong issue at the wrong time with the wrong president. He delivered a well structured speech that is inconsistent with reality. A speech that is unacceptable to the Palestinians. That may be tolerable if you consider their intransigence. But it highlighted a much more disturbing reality: not only is Israel not talking to the Palestinians, it is not really talking to the US either. Don't let the applause fool you.
The writer is a diplomat who recently served as consul-general in New York.