The PM’s speech: History in the making?

Netanyahu must use this opportunity to snuff out the world’s pipe dream of instantly establishing a Palestinian state.

[Bibi blue] Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
[Bibi blue] Binyamin Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I was once told by a world leader that a speech must convey either something new or something old in a fundamentally different way. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to a joint session of Congress must be the former, and not merely a re-hash of old rhetoric.
Netanyahu’s speech is already being billed as “Bar-Ilan II,” but although it must match the power of his 2009 address at Bar-Ilan University, it demands radically different content. With the Middle East ablaze, Iran racing unchecked toward nuclear capability and its proxy Hamas back in the Palestinian government, the world must be told that 2011 is not 2009.
Whereas two years ago, Netanyahu called for immediate peace negotiations, he must now bluntly tell Congress that talk of Palestinian statehood is simply off limits. The prime minister must use this historic opportunity to quash the international community’s pipe dream of instantly establishing a Palestinian state, and instead replace it with an honest understanding that a deal at this point is out of the question.
It may be unfashionable in many quarters, but in these deeply troubled times, the best peace policy for Israel, the US and all democratic nations is to simply wait and see. There are those who naively crave the familiar clichés about peace and reconciliation, but using the congressional stage to simply repeat these well-worn lines would be a wasted opportunity of historic proportion. With northern Israel in the crosshairs of Hezbollah rockets, Egypt’s future uncertain at best to our south, and Syria on the brink of chaos, we cannot possibly conduct talks over relinquishing land to another perilous unknown in the shape of a Palestinian state. The reality of the Fatah-Hamas coalition and its current refusal to abandon violence or recognize the Jewish State of Israel makes principled inaction imperative. Any negotiations at this point would be an act of masochism at best, and simply suicidal at worst.
MAINTAINING THE status quo is also in the best interests of the US, and in particular President Barack Obama, who has contributed greatly to the uncertainty gripping the region. After abandoning a lifelong ally, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and getting stuck in no-man’s land in Libya, he finds himself a mere spectator as Bashar Assad continues to massacre Syrian civilians unhindered – ensuring that the map of the region adopts an increasingly dangerous complexion. The United States and its Western allies can ill-afford to hand the terrorists of Hamas a foothold just north of Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion International Airport, or a grip on Jerusalem.
Netanyahu therefore finds himself presented with the perfect stage to persuade his American hosts that now more than ever, patience is required in the pursuit of regional peace. With the US presidential election only a year away, Obama cannot afford another high-profile spat with Israel, especially with Congress likely to lap up the Israeli prime minister’s every word, reinforced by continued rock-solid US public support for the Jewish state. There is little appetite for the kind of stand-off which saw Obama effectively impose a building freeze on Netanyahu last year.
OF COURSE, Netanyahu’s speech to Congress will not only be tailored to American ears, but will also be designed for domestic Israeli consumption. The prime minister has been accused of allowing Israel to become increasingly isolated on his watch. Winning American support for a cautious diplomatic approach would go some way toward answering his critics. Demonstrating a tough stance while on American soil toward a Palestinian government terminally infected by Hamas would not only be responsible, but prudent. It would help the prime minister solidify a shaky public which had threatened to turn on him following the building freeze that he implemented at Obama’s behest.
THERE ARE few bigger stages for any prime minister than addressing a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu will be the country’s only leader to have done so twice. The setting itself is matched in importance only by the unfolding regional changes, presenting the prime minister with a golden opportunity to deliver a definitive speech. The feverish speculation of only a few weeks ago – that Netanyahu would use this platform to announce a new peace initiative – is surely now the stuff of fantasy. Yet the opportunity remains. Netanyahu must use this speech to outline a whole new paradigm, sending a clear message to the world that the involvement of Hamas, especially at a time of such wretched regional turmoil, must not be rewarded. Now is simply not the time to create a Palestinian state that would likely soon fall to extremists; Israeli security comes first.
The writer served as bureau chief to Binyamin Netanyahu, and is currently the president of 3H Global Enterprise.