And what he never uttered: The name "Palestine."
Netanyahu does not have the reputation of a peacemaker. Quite the contrary. He did not change anybody’s mind with his June 14 speech, written as if to force Palestinians and Arabs to reject its proposals. If it was to be a follow-up to Barack Obama’s Cairo speech—an earnest counter-proposal for advancing Palestinian statehood—it failed. If it was to present a Netanyahu more inclined to compromise with reality rather than flaunt the same ideological conceits, it also failed. It was a serenade to Israel’s right wing, its settler movement and its Iranophobes-—a hardening of immovable positions rather than the merest suggestion of a new day.
The heart of the speech, its most quotable and anticipated part—-Netanyahu’s vision for a Palestinian future, a Palestinian “state”-—was a non-starter. It was rather an affront to Palestinians, or anyone who either believes in or understands the right to self-determination and national sovereignty.
Here’s Netanyahu’s vision of a Palestinian state: it would be “demilitarized,” he said, “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.”
That’s not a Palestinian state. It’s the same old Palestinian iron cage, but with its own currency. It’s the current Gaza state of siege under a more official guise. What sovereign nation on earth would give up control of its own air space? (Israel has presumed to own Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian air space since the 1960s.) What sovereign nation would not control its own borders, would not have the right to raise its own army, especially sitting next to the country with the world’s fourth most powerful, and nuclear, military?
Not was it an original proposal. And that was the most generous Netanyahu got.
Netanyahu hinted at his contempt for the Palestinian issue right up front. When he listed the three greatest challenges facing Israel, he cited, in that order, “the Iranian threat, the economic crisis, and the advancement of peace.” Palestinians didn’t figure in his calculations by name, and if they were to be satisfied with being included in “the advancement for peace,” that advancement holds third place in Netanyahu’s telling hierarchy of priorities.
Getting into the speech’s meatiest parts, red as those were if you’re a settler or a Likudist, or scoring at home on Aipac stationery, here’s how it broke down:
- On conditions for negotiations: Netanyahu repeated again that he was willing to go to the negotiating table without conditions, then, laid out the condition he knows will kill all deals for the Palestinians: “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,” Netanyahu said. It’s not enough that Palestinians recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1988, that they’ve reiterated the recognition, long sought by Israel, in 1993, in 2002 and since. No. Netanyahu wants Israel recognized as a Jewish state—something even Harry Truman pointedly refused to do when he recognized Israel. But Netanyahu wants that recognition as insurance against Palestinians ever claiming rights inside Israel for their refugees.
- On Palestinian refugees: Not Israel’s problem. It’s the Arabs’ problem, in Netanyahu’s view. There must, he said in a speech full of musts (17, to be precise), “be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel’s borders.” So much for making even a token attempt at providing a symbolic right of a few old timers’ return, which would likely go a very, very long way to diffusing the refugee issue.
- On settlements: “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. Rather, they are an integral part of our people, a principled, pioneering and Zionist public.” In other words, the 300,000 settlers who have expropriated Palestinian land in the West Bank are here to stay, as are the more than 100,000 in Arab East Jerusalem, making a contiguous Palestinian “state” all but a fairy tale. Another door slams shut.
- On Jerusalem: Undivided. Read: Not to be trifled with as a Palestinian capital, once that Palestinian “state” is established.
- On Hamas: No negotiations, no talks. “Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path of Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “The Palestinian Authority will have to establish the rule of law in Gaza and overcome Hamas.”
But Netanyahu knew what he was doing.