Netanyahu’s speech a non-starter

Reuter’s has posted what they claim is the complete text of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, which was supposed to respond to U.S. President Obama’s demand that expansion of settlements in Palestinian territory cease and that Israel accept a two-state solution. But their text is truncated. More complete text is available here. My analysis follows:

First, Netanyahu prioritizes Iran and an economic settlement. This is sheer hypocrisy. If Iran’s nuclear program is a threat, then what of Israel’s? And it is Israel, with, to mention just two factors, a full-scale blockade of the Gaza Strip and Israel-only access roads criss-crossing the West Bank that is the largest obstacle to Palestinian economic development. And Netanyahu intends to maintain this condition.

He seeks an alliance with Arab entrepreneurs to develop Palestine, and I suspect, an alliance with Arab states against Iran. But Netanyahu blames the 60-year old conflict–a conflict not just with Palestinians, but nearly all Middle Eastern countries–on a “refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland,” and denies that “continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.” He claims, “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.” It is not enough to say that Netanyahu ignores the presence of the Palestinians in the territory prior to “independence.” He indulges in sheer fantasy.

Netanyahu claims that Israel has tried withdrawing from the Palestinian territories, saying “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.” It is hard to look at a map of Israeli settlements in the West Bank with a network of roads forbidden to Palestinians and to see anything like a withdrawal or to imagine substantial prospects for economic development. Any entrepreneur will see this and Netanyahu acknowledges it when he expects the Palestinians to revise history: “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.” And one has to wonder why any Middle Eastern nation should choose an alliance with Israel, which relies on a declining superpower, over an alliance with Iran.

Netanyahu insists that Palestinians should recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The Palestinians have previously responded to this; a repetition of this demand betrays his insincerity. Lest there be any mistake, he says explicitly, “any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people.” Palestinians cannot make this recognition; it would be to legitimate the uprooting of Palestinians from the land they held prior to the imposition of the Israeli state. And it would be to condone an apartheid state, with non-Jews as second-class citizens.

In Netanyahu’s “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.” But Israel will remain armed; it will retain control of Palestinian airspace and of Palestinian borders. In essence, the blockade of the Palestinian people continues. Moreover, while Palestinians will accept Israeli settlers, Israel will accept no Palestinians. I do not see “two peoples liv[ing] freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect” here.

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