Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered his eagerly-awaited speech at Bar Ilan today. The speech did not disappoint: It is being reported as an endorsement of a Palestinian state and a “reversal” “in the face of U.S. pressure.” At the same time Palestinian Authority officials denounced the speech as “much worse than they had expected,” warning that it had “buried the peace process” and would “trigger a new intifada.” Robert Gibbs, on behalf of Barack Obama, expressed satisfaction with the speech, describing it as an “important step forward.”
Of those evaluations, the most significant, and most perceptive, is that of the Palestinians. The Prime Minister’s speech was, in my opinion, a brilliant stroke. You can read the entire text here. Netanyahu began by extending a hand to Arab nations and the Palestinians:
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 turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let’s begin negotiations immediately without preconditions. …
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.
Having sketched a vision of peace and prosperity, Netanyahu continued with a history lesson that occupied much of his speech. It was a beautifully clear exposition of a history that is familiar to those who are knowledgeable about the region:
If the advantages of peace are so evident, we must ask ourselves why peace remains so remote, 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? …
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 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 tens 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 to this, Hamas in the south, like Hezbollah in the north, repeatedly proclaims their 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.
That last is, of course, the one fact of overriding importance that those who endlessly prattle about the “peace process” fail to acknolwledge.
Given those historical realities, what is Netanyahu’s plan for peace? It has two simple elements:
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 “right of return,” and the shameful practice of the surrounding Arab states of keeping the Palestinians endlessly in the status of “refugees,” has never been anything but a plan for the destruction of Israel. Before going on to the second part of his peace plan, Netanyahu paused for another history lesson–a lesson that is important because it justifies the existence of Israel as a Jewish state:
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 a 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.
It is the Jews, Netanyahu tells us, who have returned by right to their homeland. They are not interlopers, newcomers or imperialists. They have a right to the land they inhabit.
But, he continues, the Palestinians have a right to their land too. It is the conditions under which this new state can be brought into existence that must be discussed:
I have already stressed the first principle – recognition. 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.
President Obama has been making demands–rather insolent demands, some would say–on Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu concluded his speech by calling on the United States and the world community in general to take responsibility for a demilitarized Palestine:
Therefore, today we ask our friends in the international community, led by the United States, for what is critical to the security of Israel: 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 demilitarization 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 must remain the united capital of Israel 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.
So Netanyahu presented both a plan for peace and a sequence through which that plan can be realized: first, the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as the permanent home of the Jewish people and the United States and the international community agree to ensure a demilitarized Palestinian state. Second, negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state are subject to the conditions that Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel and that Israel’s borders will be defensible. Lastly, subject to all of those understandings, final boundaries can be drawn.
Netanyahu has staked out a position of great strength. Will the Palestinians agree to recognize Israel as a permanent Jewish state? No. That being the case, can Obama reasonably object to Netanyahu’s demand that any Palestinian nation be demilitarized? No. If it is transparent that the Palestinians will not agree to Israel’s existence and intend to arm themselves to being about its destruction, will Obama be able to bring enough pressure to force Netanyahu’s government to betray its people’s security? I don’t think so.
In short, it was a superb speech that set out a sound policy.
PAUL adds: I agree and hope to comment on the speech later. For now, I’ll may make one peripheral point. Some of Obama’s overwrought critics have criticized his Cairo speech for suggesting that the state of Israel would not have been established and recognized but for the Holocaust. But Netanyahu’s response does not dispute this as a matter of historical fact.
There are those who say that without the Holocaust the State would not have been established, but I say that if the State of Israel had been established in time, the Holocaust would not have taken place.
In this sentence, a non-admission admission on the historical issue, Netanyahu also does not shy away from the Holocaust as a key part of the moral case for a Jewish state. In the next sentence, Netayahu is even more direct.
The tragedies that arose from the Jewish People’s helplessness show very sharply that we need a protective state.
As a Jew, Netanyahu also believes, that the protective state needed to be in “Eretz Israel, where the People of Israel created the Book of Books.” As a non-Jew, Obama may or may not believe this. Frankly, I don’t think it matters much whether he does, as long as he’s convinced, as he appears to be, that the Holocaust and the larger history of persecution of the Jews provides a rock-solid justification for the existence of the state of Israel.