Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech on the peace process
Jun 17, 2009 | AIJAC staff
June 17, 2009
Number 06/09 #07
As promised yesterday, here is our Update on Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy speech on the peace process, which he gave at Bar Ilan University on Sunday. In fact, this will probably be the first of two Updates on the subject – this one dealing with the actual contents of the speech, interpreting what Netanyahu said, the likely reasons why, and the implications. A subsequent Update will deal with reactions to the speech – especially by the Palestinians and other Arab sources – as this is too big a topic to also include here.
First up, we include the actual speech text. It has been much reported on and discussed, but some of those discussions have been incomplete, or distorted. It is well worth reading in full to see exactly what was said, and was not said, rather than relying on media reporting, some of which has been inaccurate. If you wish to know what exactly Netanyahu said about a Palestinian state, and how he explained the conditions Israel placed on it – that it be demilitarised and that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state – CLICK HERE.
Next up, Israeli political science academic Jonathan Rynhold parses the speech and its messages. He points to a number of audiences Netanyahu was addressing – the Americans, the Israeli public, and the Palestinians – and the messages Netanyahu conveyed to each. These messages, Rynhold argues, are respectively – “I am pragmatic and will concede a Palestinian state if Israel’s needs are met from a deal”,
“I am centrist and stand with the Israeli consensus”, and “please test me with talks.” Rynhold has some interesting insights into the nuances of all the messages in Netanyahu’s words, so please read his full analysis, HERE. Other interesting attempts to parse closely what Netanyahu was saying and not saying come from BICOM, David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post, blogger and journalist Shmuel Rosner, American blogger Jennifer Rubin and American editor Marty Peretz.
Finally, noted Israeli columnist Avi Shavit of Haaretz, praises Netanyahu for adopting the formula Shavit himself urged before the speech (in this piece) – “a demilitarised Palestinian state alongside a Jewish Israeli state”. He argues that Netanyahu is following in the footsteps not only of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, but of Yitzhak Rabin, who, he points out, also insisted right up until his murder that any future Palestinian state would have to be demilitarised, and that Jerusalem must remain undivided. Shavit argues that Netanyahu’s speech nonetheless represents a major watershed, changing Israel’s political debate by bringing the Revisionist side of Israeli politics into the debate about how a Palestinian state can be established. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE. Earlier, Shavit had another piece on Netanyahu’s speech arguing that it helps unify the Israeli consensus, an argument also made in a Jerusalem Post editorial. Meanwhile, two other Israeli commentators agreeing with Shavit’s argument that Netanyahu’s endorsement of a Palestinian state represents a watershed in Israeli debate on the subject are Yair Lapid and Dror Nissan. Highlighting Shavit’s point about Netanyahu basically following the path of past leaders like Sharon and Rabin was Israeli author Paul Gross.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Both hardline members of his own Likud party and the Palestinian leadership have condemned Netanyahu’s speech. However, polls show most Israelis liked it, and it boosted his popularity. It also was popular with most Jewish groups around the world.
- Some critics of Netanyahu’s speech include American academic Daniel Pipes and Israeli academic Martin Sherman, as well as Israeli commentator Yisrael Harel.
- Barry Rubin, by contrast, argues that Netanyahu endorsed the right sort of Palestinian state.
- Leslie Gelb, one of America’s most senior foreign policy experts and a senior official in the Carter Administration says that Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood are “significant points that Washington shouldn’t ignore.”
- Israeli reporter Yaakov Katz looks at the complexities of Netanyahu’s call for a demilitarised Palestinian state. However, international law specialist Louis Rene Beres argues that agreement on such a demilitarised state would be very difficult to enforce under international law.
- Israel is building a new pipeline to carry diesel and cooking oil to Gaza and has just removed another major West Bank roadblock.
- Iran is now reportedly clamping down severely on the foreign media reporting on the protests there. Dissidents predict that this is likely the prelude to escalating the violence against protesters. Prosecutors are already threatening the death penalty for protest leaders.
- Information and pictures on the ongoing unrest in Iran are here, here, here, and here. A round-up of good news sources on the protests is here. The protesters have reportedly issued seven demands.
- Some Iranian protesters are claiming that Palestinian forces are assisting the Iranian security forces to suppress protests (scroll down for the relevant paragraph).
- There is increasing debate in the US concerning whether the US government should try to assist the protesters, offer verbal support, or remain quiet for fear of making them appear as Western stooges. Interesting entries in this debate are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
- As usual, the Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH) online forum has an excellent collection of analyses of the Iranian situation and US policy options from numerous academic experts on the Middle East.
- Some interesting comments on the Iranian election from Laura Secor of the New Yorker, thinktankers Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh, columnists Christopher Hitchens and Anne Applebaum plus former UN Ambassador John Bolton.
- A Lebanese online publication comments on the similarity between the Iran protests and Lebanon’s own March 14 movement which ended direct Syrian domination of Lebanon.
- Some additional good analysis of the Lebanese election results from Israeli academic expert Amir Kulack and Washington Institute scholar David Schenker.
Honored guests, citizens of Israel.
Peace has always been our people’s most ardent desire. Our prophets gave the world the vision of peace, we greet one another with wishes of peace, and our prayers conclude with the word peace.
We are gathered this evening in an institution named for two pioneers of peace, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and we share their vision.
Two and half months ago, I took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of Israel. I pledged to establish a national unity government – and I did. I believe that unity is essential for us now more than ever as we face three immense challenges – the Iranian threat, the economic crisis, and the advancement of peace.
The Iranian threat looms large before us. The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons. I discussed this issue with President Obama during my recent visit to Washington, and I will raise it again in my meetings next week with European leaders. For years, I have been working tirelessly to forge an international alliance to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Confronting a global economic crisis, the government acted swiftly to stabilize Israel’s economy. We passed a two year budget in the government – and the Knesset will soon approve it.
And the third challenge, so exceedingly important, is the advancement of peace. I also spoke about this with President Obama, and fully support the idea of a regional peace that he is leading.
I share the President’s desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region. To this end, I met with President Mubarak in Egypt and King Abdullah in Jordan to elicit the support of these leaders in expanding the circle of peace in our region.
I turn to all Arab leaders tonight and I say: “Let us meet. Let us speak of peace and let us make peace. I am ready to meet with you at any time. I am willing to go to Damascus, to Riyadh, to Beirut, to any place- including Jerusalem.
I call on the Arab countries to cooperate with the Palestinians and with us to advance an economic peace. An economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace, but an important element to achieving it. Together, we can undertake projects to overcome the scarcities of our region, like water desalination, or to maximize its advantages, like developing solar energy, laying gas and petroleum lines, and establishing transportation links between Asia, Africa and Europe.
The economic success of the Gulf States has impressed us all and it has impressed me. I call on the talented entrepreneurs of the Arab world to come and invest here and to assist the Palestinians – and us – in spurring the economy.
Together we can develop industrial areas that will generate thousands of jobs and develop tourist sites that will attract millions of visitors eager to walk in the footsteps of history – in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, around the walls of Jericho and the walls of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and the baptismal site on the banks of the Jordan.
There is an enormous potential for archeological tourism, if we can only learn to cooperate to realize it.
I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let us begin negotiations immediately without preconditions.
Israel is obligated by its international commitments and expects all parties to keep their commitments.
We want to live with you in peace, as good neighbors. We want our children and your children to never again experience war: that parents, brothers and sisters will never again know the agony of losing loved ones in battle; that our children will be able to dream of a better future and realize that dream; and that together we will invest our energies in plowshares and pruning hooks, not swords and spears.
I know the face of war. I have experienced battle. I lost close friends, I lost a brother. I have seen the pain of bereaved families. I do not want war. No one in Israel wants war.
If we join hands and work together for peace, there is no limit to the development and prosperity we can achieve for our two peoples – in the economy, agriculture, trade, tourism and education – most importantly, in providing our youth a better world in which to live, a life full of tranquility, creativity, opportunity and hope.
If the advantages of peace are so evident, we must ask ourselves why peace remains so elusive, even as our hand remains outstretched to peace? Why has this conflict continued for more than sixty years?
In order to bring an end to the conflict, we must give an honest and forthright answer to the question: What is the root of the conflict?
In his speech to the first Zionist Conference in Basel, the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, said about the Jewish national home: “This idea is so big that we must speak of it only in the simplest terms.” Today, I will speak about the immense challenge of peace in the simplest words possible.
Even as we look toward the horizon, we must be firmly connected to reality, to the truth. And the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in their historic homeland.
In 1947, when the United Nations proposed the partition plan of a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the resolution. The Jewish community, by contrast, welcomed it by dancing and rejoicing. The Arabs rejected any Jewish state, in any borders.
Those who think that the continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, is confusing cause and consequence.
The attacks against us began in the 1920s, escalated into a comprehensive attack in 1948 with the declaration of Israel’s independence, continued with the fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, and climaxed in 1967, on the eve of the six-day war, in an attempt to tighten a noose around the neck of the State of Israel.
All this occurred during the fifty years before a single Israeli soldier ever set foot in Judea and Samaria .
Fortunately, Egypt and Jordan left this circle of enmity. The signing of peace treaties have brought about an end to their claims against Israel, an end to the conflict. But to our regret, this is not the case with the Palestinians. The closer we get to an agreement with them, the further they retreat from it and raise demands that are inconsistent with a true desire to end the conflict.
Many good people have told us that withdrawal from territories is the key to peace with the Palestinians. Well, we withdrew. But the fact is that every withdrawal was met with massive waves of terror, by suicide bombers and thousands of missiles.
We tried to withdraw with an agreement and without an agreement. We tried a partial withdrawal and a full withdrawal. In 2000 and again last year, Israel proposed an almost total withdrawal in exchange for an end to the conflict, and twice our offers were rejected.
We evacuated every last inch of the Gaza strip, we uprooted over twenty of settlements and evicted thousands of Israelis from their homes, and in response, we received a hail of missiles on our cities, towns and children.
The claim that territorial withdrawals will bring peace with the Palestinians, or at least advance peace, has up till now not stood the test of reality.
In addition, Hamas in the south, like Hezbollah in the north, repeatedly proclaims its commitment to “liberate” the Israeli cities of Ashkelon, Beersheba, Acre and Haifa.
Territorial withdrawals have not lessened the hatred, and to our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.
Achieving peace will require courage and candor from both sides, and not only from the Israeli side.
The Palestinian leadership must rise and say: “Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace.”
I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, then a path will be opened to resolving all the problems between our peoples, no matter how complex they may be.
Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
To vest this declaration with practical meaning, there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel’s borders. For it is clear that any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people.
The Palestinian refugee problem must be solved, and it can be solved, as we ourselves proved in a similar situation. Tiny Israel successfully absorbed tens of thousands of Jewish refugees who left their homes and belongings in Arab countries.
Therefore, justice and logic demand that the Palestinian refugee problem be solved outside Israel’s borders. On this point, there is a broad national consensus. I believe that with goodwill and international investment, this humanitarian problem can be resolved once and for all.
So far I have spoken about the need for Palestinians to recognize our rights. In a moment, I will speak openly about our need to recognize their rights.
But let me first say that the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.
The right of the Jewish people to a state in the land of Israel does not derive from the catastrophes that have plagued our people. True, for 2000 years the Jewish people suffered expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, and massacres which culminated in the Holocaust – a suffering which has no parallel in human history.
There are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the state of Israel would never have been established. But I say that if the state of Israel would have been established earlier, the Holocaust would not have occurred.
This tragic history of powerlessness explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.
But our right to build our sovereign state here, in the land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged.
As Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: “The Jewish people arose in the land of Israel and it was here that its spiritual, religious and political character was shaped. Here they attained their sovereignty, and here they bequeathed to the world their national and cultural treasures, and the most eternal of books.”
But we must also tell the truth in its entirety: within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community. We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them.
In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.
These two realities – our connection to the land of Israel and the Palestinian population living within it – have created deep divisions in Israeli society. But the truth is that we have much more that unites us than divides us.
I have come tonight to give expression to that unity, and to the principles of peace and security on which there is broad agreement within Israeli society. These are the principles that guide our policy.
This policy must take into account the international situation that has recently developed. We must recognize this reality and at the same time stand firmly on those principles essential for Israel.
I have already stressed the first principle – recognition. The Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The second principle is demilitarization. The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel.
Without these two conditions, there is a real danger that an armed Palestinian state would emerge that would become another terrorist base against the Jewish state, such as the one in Gaza.
We don’t want Kassam rockets on Petach Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv, or missiles on Ben-Gurion airport. We want peace.
In order to achieve peace, we must ensure that Palestinians will not be able to import missiles into their territory, to field an army, to close their airspace to us, or to make pacts with the likes of Hezbollah and Iran. On this point as well, there is wide consensus within Israel.
It is impossible to expect us to agree in advance to the principle of a Palestinian state without assurances that this state will be demilitarized.
On a matter so critical to the existence of Israel, we must first have our security needs addressed.
Therefore, today we ask our friends in the international community, led by the United States, for what is critical to the security of Israel. We ask for clear commitments that in a future peace agreement, the territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized: namely, without an army, without control of its airspace, and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory – real monitoring, and not what occurs in Gaza today. And obviously, the Palestinians will not be able to forge military pacts.
Without this, sooner or later, these territories will become another Hamastan. And that we cannot accept.
I told President Obama when I was in Washington that if we could agree on the substance, then the terminology would not pose a problem.
And here is the substance that I now state clearly:
If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitirization and Israel’s security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.
Regarding the remaining important issues that will be discussed as part of the final settlement, my positions are known: Israel needs defensible borders, and Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, must remain undivided with continued religious freedom for all faiths.
The territorial question will be discussed as part of the final peace agreement. In the meantime, we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.
But there is a need to enable the residents to live normal lives, to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children like families elsewhere. The settlers are neither the enemies of the people nor the enemies of peace. They are an integral part of our people, a principled, pioneering and Zionist community.
Unity among us is essential and will help us achieve reconciliation with our neighbors. That reconciliation must begin today by altering realities on the ground. I believe that a strong Palestinian economy will strengthen peace.
If the Palestinians turn toward peace – in fighting terror, in strengthening governance and the rule of law, in educating their children for peace and in stopping incitement against Israel – we will do our part in making every effort to facilitate freedom of movement and access, and to enable them to develop their economy. All of this will help us advance a peace treaty between us.
Above all, the Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority will have to establish the rule of law in Gaza and overcome Hamas. Israel will not sit at the negotiating table with terrorists who seek their destruction.
Hamas will not even allow the Red Cross to visit our kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent three years in captivity, cut off from his parents, his family and his people. We are committed to bringing him home, healthy and safe.
With a Palestinian leadership committed to peace, the active participation of the Arab world, and the support of the United States and the international community, there is no reason why we cannot achieve a breakthrough to peace.
Our people have already proven that we can achieve the impossible. Over the past 61 years, while constantly defending our existence, we have performed wonders.
Our microchips are powering the world’s computers. Our medicines are treating diseases once considered incurable. Our drip irrigation is bringing arid lands back to life across the globe. And Israeli scientists are expanding the boundaries of human knowledge.
If only our neighbors would respond to our call – peace too will be in our reach.
I call on the leaders of the Arab world and on the Palestinian leadership, let us continue together on the path of Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein. Let us realize the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who said in Jerusalem 2700 years ago: “Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall learn war no more.”
With God’s help, we will know no more war. We will know peace.
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An Attempt at Consensus Diplomacy
by Dr. Jonathan Rynhold
June 15, 2009
BESA Perspectives 80
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Prime Minister responded to President Obama’s Cairo speech by endorsing a circumscribed Palestinian state. The conditions he imposed on acceptance of that state were those endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public, as well as, by the parties to the left of the Likud. In the short term, the speech represents a political success for Netanyahu, as he managed to improve relations with the U.S. while simultaneously keeping his governing coalition intact. However, relatively soon Netanyahu will have to make a decision regarding the actual dismantling of illegal outposts that will probably require him to make a choice between the stability of his government and the quality of Israel’s relations with the United States. The most obvious way around this dilemma is the creation of a national unity government in Israel, which Netanyahu called for in his speech.
The Prime Minister opened his speech at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies last night by referring to the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, not only to Israel, but to the U.S. and its pragmatic Arab allies in the Middle East. As such, Netanyahu indicated clearly what Israel regards as the most important strategic issue in the region. However, he did not comment extensively on the issue, perhaps because Iran’s newly re-elected extremist President, Ahmadinejad, might have used Netanyahu’s statement to delegitimize the Iranian opposition’s demonstrations against him.
Netanyahu’s message to the Americans: I am Pragmatic
The Obama administration has been demanding from day one that Netanyahu accept a two-state solution. In his speech, Netanyahu formally endorsed this position. This was not an entirely new position. Netanyahu stated several times in the late 1990s that he would be willing to accept a Palestinian state under certain conditions, but this was the first time that he formally adopted this position. In response, the Obama administration welcomed the speech as positive and a step forward. As such, Netanyahu achieved a major objective – avoiding a major crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations.
Between the lines, Netanyahu also sent three other important messages to the United States. First, the Prime Minister chose to speak at the Begin-Sadat Center and he referred in his speech to the first Israeli-Arab peace treaty forged by Likud leader Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In doing so he reminded the U.S., that the Likud can be a partner for peace.
Second, on settlements, Netanyahu indicated his desire to reach a quiet understanding with the Americans. In this vein, he not only reiterated his promise not to build new settlements or expropriate additional land for existing settlements, but more significantly he did not refer to the term “natural growth”, which the Americans have rejected. Instead, he spoke about allowing the settlers to maintain a ‘normal life’.
Third, Netanyahu clearly rejected the contention made by Obama in his Cairo speech that Israel’s right to exist rests on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Instead, he emphasized that the Jewish people’s right to a homeland rests on its deep historical connection to the land.
Simultaneously, the Prime Minster sent Obama a political message concerning American pressure on Israel. Obama has emphasized the issues of a Palestinian state and freezing settlements. These are issues on which his position is supported by the majority of Americans, the majority of Congress and over which American Jews are divided. However, American public opinion, American Jewry and Congress are overwhelming supportive of the two major conditions for Palestinian statehood that Netanyahu raised: recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Israel’s security concerns. If the Palestinians do not indicate a willingness to ultimately acquiesce to these positions, Obama will find it harder to pressure the Netanyahu government.
Netanyahu’s message to the Israeli public: I am a Centrist
The core positions Netanyahu adopted in the speech reflect the Israeli consensus. For many years now, Israeli public opinion has consistently been willing to accept a Palestinian state. At the same time, the public’s core political value is the existence of Israel as Jewish state and its main demands from the Palestinians are security and opposition to the immigration of Palestinian refugees and their descendents into Israel. In emphasizing these particular conditions for Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu is adopting similar positions to the parties to the left of the Likud, most notably Kadima head Tzippi Livni who has also emphasized that the refugee issue must be resolved outside of Israel.
At the same time Netanyahu shored up his right flank by referring to the Palestinian population, not the Palestinian nation, by making positive comments about the character of the settler community, by not accepting the American demand for a full settlement freeze, and by not announcing any practical measures that require implementation, such as dismantling outposts.
Netanyahu’s message to the Palestinians: Test me
Netanyahu’s main message to the Palestinians was this: You may not like everything I said, but I am willing to make compromises. If you want a state, don’t expect American pressure to deliver it for you, while you sit back passively. You too will have to make compromises – so why not test me out in negotiations.
Although Netanyahu put conditions on accepting Palestinian statehood, he did not put conditions on opening diplomatic negotiations. In fact, even while he called on Palestinians and Arab states to work together to help develop the economic foundations of peace, he emphasized that this was a complement to diplomatic talks not a substitute for them. The Prime Minister also sent a very subtle message to Abu Mazen. Netanyahu differentiated his absolute conditions for Palestinian statehood from his “well known positions” on permanent status issues, including a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. These positions differ from the more dovish stance of Kadima and Labor. By stating them clearly, he drew a very negative reaction from the Palestinians. However, it is worth noting that Netanyahu did not present these “well known positions” as absolute conditions.
In the short term, Netanyahu speech succeeded in securing its strategic objectives. The Americans expressed support, the coalition remained intact, and the Palestinians were forced to answer questions concerning their willingness to make compromises.
However, Netanyahu will not be able to avoid difficult choices for long. In order to retain credibility with the Americans and the Israeli center, Netanyahu will have to demonstrate in practice his willingness to compromise. This means not only entering negotiations but also fulfilling prior Israeli commitments – most notably removing the illegal settlement outposts. But if he does this, there will be a crisis with the Israel right and his coalition may become destabilized.
The only way to shore up his position would then be to add Kadima (or part of Kadima) to the coalition. Against this background, it is significant that Netanyahu called again for a national unity government, while mentioning the word “unity” several other times as well. Without a national unity government it will prove difficult for Netanyahu to maintain the successful the balancing act embodied in his address at the Begin-Sadat Center.
Jonathan Rynhold is senior lecturer of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
By Ari Shavit
Haaretz, June 18
A week ago my piece about the seven-word formula – a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside a Jewish Israeli state – appeared on this page. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopted this formula, making it the cornerstone of Israeli policy in his “Bar-Ilan speech” on Sunday.
Netanyahu, however, added two fundamental elements to the formula: a solid international guarantee that the Palestinian state is indeed demilitarized, and a clear Palestinian recognition of Israel’s being a Jewish state. According to his worldview, the international guarantee to limit the sovereignty of Palestine completes the international guarantee that Herzl requested for Israel’s establishment.
But the Palestinians must recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people in order to prove that they have accepted the Jews’ right to sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Netanyahu’s peace is threefold – Israel accepts the Palestinian state, the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and the international community ensures that the Palestinian state doesn’t endanger the Jewish state’s existence. Advertisement
In a certain sense, Netanyahu’s move is in keeping with Ariel Sharon’s approach. The prime minister realized that he was trapped in a “corral” (as Sharon described it), pushed into a corner and isolated by international pressure. Thus, like the post-2000 Sharon, he decided to break out of the corner and take the initiative. Netanyahu accepted the principle of dividing the land in a controlled manner to avoid an imposed partition. In order to prevent a swift, dangerous retreat to the 1967 borders he proposed a painful compromise. Thus he found himself uttering the two taboo words he had sworn he would never say: Palestinian state.
In another sense, Netanyahu’s move is in the style of Ehud Barak. Like post-2000 Barak, he realized that neither the world nor the Israeli public understand what Israel is fighting over. Like Barak, Netanyahu grasped that when the battle line is the occupation and the settlements, Israel is in an inferior position. Therefore, like Barak, he decided to move Israel’s position to the commanding heights. As Barak challenged the Palestinians at Camp David, Netanyahu challenged them at Bar-Ilan University. By focusing the debate on the core issues, Netanyahu shifted the Israeli-Palestinian front line from the “natural growth” in the settlements to the issue of survival and the right of the Jewish national home to exist.
In a third sense, Netanyahu’s statement was a step along the path of Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was murdered believing that Jerusalem must remain united and the Jordan Valley must remain in Israeli hands. Rabin was murdered believing that the final status arrangement would be based on establishing a Palestinian state with limited sovereignty. After the Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu, too, believes the final status arrangement will be based on establishing such a Palestinian state. Ironically and tragically, the hated Bibi has become the one continuing Rabin’s path.
And yet, Netanyahu is not Rabin, Barak or Sharon. He is not a security-oriented Mapainik but rather a revisionist statesman. As a student of Zeev Jabotinsky, Netanyahu fomented a conceptual revolution. Unlike these three predecessors, he is not trying to protect Israel by means of security arrangements, but rather by means of seminal principles. Unlike them he is not trying to engineer a practical arrangement, but rather to establish peace on a clear, solid ideological foundation. Unlike them he is standing proudly, insisting on Jewish history, Jews’ rights and the principle of Jewish sovereignty.
He may or may not succeed. He might lead the country to peace, or bring it to war. But he made a move of revolutionary significance. Netanyahu not only took a courageous personal step, he generated an intellectual, ideological turnabout.
With the seven-word formula he changed the discourse on the conflict from its very foundations. He set an unprecedented challenge before the Palestinian nation and the international community. After the Bar-Ilan speech the question on the world agenda is not only when and where the Israelis will withdraw, but what the Palestinians, Arabs, Europeans and Americans will do to ensure that the great Israeli withdrawal does not end in disaster.