Mainstream reporters are characterizing Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the Israel lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, yesterday as sounding a new and positive stance on John Kerry’s peace initiative.
This view was stated first by Wolf Blitzer yesterday on CNN, when he embraced the speech as a departure, and cited Netanyahu’s praise for Secretary of State John Kerry’s sleepless diplomacy. Then his guest Jane Harman of the Wilson Center (gosh they have a lot of diversity!) echoed that view in a hopeful manner, and suggested that Kerry and Netanyahu were at last taking up the challenge of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
This positive view of the speech soon became the conventional wisdom. It was on Politico, it’s in the New York Times. I’m sure it’s elsewhere, too. Before long people will be talking about Netanyahu’s incredibly warm support for John Kerry’s peace initiative.
Myself I think the mainstream reporters want to believe in the viability of the two-state solution so they’re embracing anything Netanyahu gives them. I did not hear any substantive change in Netanyahu’s position. He said that Jerusalem must remain undivided and he implicitly defended Jewish colonization of Bethlehem and Hebron and Jerusalem as Jews’ biblical birthright. His comments about Israeli forces in the West Bank suggest that Palestinians will never have real sovereignty in a viable state.
In fairness, Netanyahu was very positive about Kerry and pounded the theme of so-called economic peace– the view expressed by Shimon Peres and others that with peace Israel and Palestine could fuel economic upsurge throughout the Middle East and the Gulf. (As if people whose rightslessness has been compared to slavery can be bought off with material goods).
But let’s get to the conventional wisdom, then I’ll excerpt the speech, and you can read for yourself.
Politico sounded the positive theme yesterday:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tends to be a skeptic about the peace process, more known for voicing his concerns than his optimism. AIPAC tends to be a receptive audience for that skepticism and concern.
But fresh off what he called “very good talks” at the White House with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu instead made the case for the benefits of peace in his address to the conference of the top Israel issues lobbying group Tuesday.
The Times reflects that conventional wisdom today:
A day after meeting with President Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Tuesday made an uncharacteristically enthusiastic pitch for a peace accord with the Palestinians, saying it would enable Israel to tighten ties with its Arab neighbors and “catapult the region forward” on issues like health, energy and education.
Here’s the speech. Here is the portion about the peace process:
Ladies and gentlemen, peace is Israel’s highest aspiration. I’m prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors — (applause) — a peace that would end a century of conflict and bloodshed. Peace would be good for us. Peace would be good for the Palestinians. But peace would also open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world.
Many Arab leaders — and believe me, this is a fact, not a hypothesis, it’s a fact — many Arab leaders today already realize that Israel is not their enemy, that peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships. (Applause.)
The combination of Israeli innovation and Gulf entrepreneurship, to take one example — I think this combination could catapult the entire region forward. I believe that together, we can resolve actually some of the region’s water and energy problems. You know, Israeli has half the rainfall we had 65 years ago. We have 10 times the population. Our GDP has shot up, thank God — GDP per capita, up. So we have half the rainfall, 10 times the population, and our water use goes up. And which country in the world doesn’t have water problems? Yep. Israel. (Applause.)
Why? Because of technology, of innovation, of systems. We could make that available to our Arab neighbors throughout the region that is not exactly blessed with water. We could solve the water problems. We could solve the energy problems. We could improve agriculture. We could improve education with e-learning, health with diagnostics on the Internet. All of that is possible. We could better the lives of hundreds of millions. So we all have so much to gain from peace.
That’s why I want to thank the indomitable John Kerry. You know, New York — (applause) — and Tel-Aviv, they’re the cities that never sleep. John Kerry is definitely the secretary of state who never sleeps.
And — (applause) — and I’ve got the bags under my eyes to prove it. We’re working together, literally day and night, to seek a durable peace, a peace anchored in solid security arrangements and the mutual recognition of two nation-states. (Applause.)
Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — (applause) — where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed. The land of Israel is the place where the identity of the Jewish people was forged.
It was in Hebron that Abraham blocked the cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. It was in Bethel that Jacob dreamed his dreams. It was in Jerusalem that David ruled his kingdom. We never forget that, but it’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history. (Applause.)
Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state. (Applause.) President Abbas, recognize the Jewish state, and in doing so, you would be telling your people, the Palestinians, that while we might have a territorial dispute, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute. (Applause.)
You would be telling Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, or amputating parts of the Negev and the Galilee. In recognizing the Jewish state, you would finally making clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict. So recognize the Jewish state. No excuses, no delays, it’s time. (Applause.)
Now, my friends, it may take years, it may take decades for this formal acceptance of Israel to filter down through all layers of Palestinian society. So if this piece is to be more than a brief interlude between wars, Israel needs long-term security arrangements on the ground to protect the peace and to protect Israel if the peace unravels. You see, those security arrangements would always be important, but they’re even more important and critical today when the entire Middle East is unraveling. Three years ago, our region was a very different place. Can anyone sitting here, anyone listening to us, can anyone tell me and be sure what the Middle East will look like five, 10, 20 years from now? We cannot bet the security of Israel on our fondest hopes.
You know, in the Middle East, that’s usually a losing bet. We should always hope for the best, but in the Middle East we have to be prepared for the worst. And despite the best of hopes, international peacekeeping forces sent to Lebanon, Gaza, Sinai, the Golan Heights, they didn’t prevent those areas from becoming armed strongholds against Israel.
If we reach an agreement, as I hope, with the Palestinians, I don’t delude myself. That peace will most certainly come under attack — constant attack by Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida and others. And experience has shown that foreign peacekeepers — foreign peacekeeping forces, well, that they keep the peace only when there is peace.
But when they’re subjected to repeated attacks, those forces eventually go home. So as long as the peace is under assault, the only force that can be relied on to defend the peace and defend Israel is the force defending its own home — the Israeli Army, the brave soldiers of the IDF. (Applause.)
I’m going to reveal to you a secret. This position may not win me universal praise.
That occasionally happens when I (state ?) our positions. But I’m charged with protecting the security of my people, the people of Israel. And I will never gamble with the security of the one and only Jewish state. (Applause.)
So as we work in the coming days, in the coming weeks, to forge a durable peace, I hope that the Palestinian leadership will stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope.
You can clap. You want to encourage them to do that. (Applause.) I do, and I know you do too.
The danger in the mainstream spinning is that it is very reminiscent of the spinning of the Camp David process in 2000– in which a paltry Israeli offer was embraced by the American media as generous, and the Palestinians were blamed as rejectionists. I thought we were past that dynamic!
I’d also note that I found myself confused listening to Netanyahu: is his job to defend the people of Israel, or the Jewish people? This confusion is inherent in Israel’s definition of citizenship and nationality. Shira Robinson explores these contradictions in her new book Citizen Strangers; and in the next few days I am going to post an interview with Robinson explaining the origins of the problem in Israel’s foundational laws.