Fundamentally Freund: The Right's knuckleheaded response

Netanyahu has seized the reins of the argument, and injected a healthy dose of realism into the debate.

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
Even for a leadership well-versed in rejecting Israel's outstretched hand of peace, the Palestinians wasted little time Sunday night in denouncing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's bold diplomatic address. Just moments after the conclusion of the speech, in which Netanyahu offered conditional support for the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, various Palestinian leaders made a mad dash for the microphones, seemingly competing with one another to scale new heights of vitriol and hyperbole. Indeed, while it may have taken the premier 25 minutes to deliver his remarks, it took chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat barely five minutes to get on Al-Jazeera right afterward and declare that "in a thousand years no Palestinian leader will accept this." How nice to see that Israel's new proposals were given such careful and thoughtful consideration. Shortly thereafter, PLO executive committee secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo decided to join the fray, maligning the prime minister as "a swindler, a fraud and a liar" and labeling his speech "a zero." Others, such as legislator Mustafa Barghouti and spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh, hammered away at the speech, insisting that it proved that Israel was not serious about peace. Given the haste and harshness of the reaction, one would assume that Israel's Right would have looked on this turn of events with glee. After all, if Ramallah reacted with such wrath, then certainly the people in Ofra and Otniel should be overjoyed, don't you think? Yet that is clearly not the case, as a number of right-wing figures have come out solidly against the speech, invoking terms such as "betrayal." WHICH IS WHY I cannot help but ask: How is it that some on the Right just don't seem to get it? Take, for example, National Union MK Arye Eldad, who made the rather obtuse accusation that Netanyahu's speech proved that he was "converting from his own religion." "With the expression 'a demilitarized Palestinian state,' Netanyahu is trying to eat a pig butchered in a kosher way," Eldad helpfully added. Putting aside this rather odd choice of culinary metaphors, Eldad seems to have missed the point entirely. The fact is that Netanyahu's speech was masterfully crafted, not only in terms of style and structure, but especially in terms of content. It was the perfect rejoinder to the pressure from Washington, essentially turning the tables on the Palestinians and immediately transforming them into the rejectionists. ANY FAIR-MINDED OBSERVER who listened to the speech, or merely read it afterward, could not help but come away impressed by two main themes: A sincere desire for peace, alongside the undeniable historical rights which underpin the existence of the Jewish state. Netanyahu made a compelling case against territorial withdrawals, wryly noting that the assertion they will bring peace "has up till now not stood the test of reality." Moreover, he offered his listeners a concise yet crucial historical survey of modern Arab opposition to the very existence of a Jewish presence in this region. And when was the last time that a prime minister offered such a compelling defense of the Jewish people's right to be here? With regard to the issue of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu succeeded in outwitting US President Barack Obama at his own game, using his considerable rhetorical skills to marshal an unprecedented consensus among the public. Think about it: Netanyahu's speech was essentially an intellectual frontal assault on the most cherished of the Left's beliefs. For years, it has been trying to convince the public of the wisdom of establishing an unchecked sovereign Palestinian entity, in the process blaming Israel for much of the conflict because of its failure to do just that. And, unfortunately, it has had a great deal of success. UNTIL NOW, that is. For what Netanyahu has done is to seize the reins of the argument, and inject a healthy dose of realism into the debate. By conditioning the creation of a Palestinian state on comprehensive demilitarization, he has shown just how utterly utopian, and unrealistic, the Left's dream truly is. And by insisting on a set of entirely reasonable demands, such as Palestinian recognition of Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people," and the negation of a Palestinian state's ability to forge military pacts or to control its airspace, he has recast the definition of "statehood" in such a way as to reduce the danger it would pose to our existence. Only a knucklehead could fail to see this, but that is precisely what some on the Right so excel at doing. For all their ideological savvy, many seem to lack an equal level of political skill and sophistication. I say this as a card-carrying member of the Right, and a proud proponent and firm believer in the divine promise of a Greater Israel. As uncomfortable as they - and I - are with any talk of a possible Palestinian state, Netanyahu's critics need to recognize his speech as a great achievement, rather than view it as a source for concern. For the first time in a long time, the battle of ideas has been joined. So instead of attacking the prime minister, it is time for the Right to strengthen and defend him. His speech on Sunday represents a subtle, yet seismic, shift in the country's stance, one that clearly places the burden on the Palestinian side to put up or shut up. And, as we know quite well from recent history, it won't be too hard to guess just which of those two paths it is likely to choose.