After the Netanyahu speech to Congress today, the Palestinians now must prove that they want peace. And they might have proved the opposite.
The Netanyahu speech in sum
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress at 11:15 a.m. EDT today. (Full transcript.) In it he made a counter-offer to President Barack H. Obama’s earlier speeches. Obama called for Israel to withdraw to the 1949 armistice line (“the 1967 Israel borders”), subject to exchanges of land on both sides of the line. Under the Obama Israel plan, Palestine would have permanent borders with Syria, Jordan and Egypt, and Israel would have permanent borders with Palestine.
The Netanyahu speech offered an alternative. Israel might make “very generous” land grants, but would not retreat to the 1949 armistice line. Netanyahu said that line was indefensible. He pointed out that Israel would be only nine miles wide at its narrowest point. This is about half the distance that an American travels (by car or rail) to and from work every day. Furthermore, it would place Israeli homes within rocket range with less than a minute of warning.
Netanyahu could have pointed out that Sderot, an Israeli town close to Gaza, regularly suffers from rocket attacks with fifteen seconds of warning. But Netanyahu did not include Gaza in his counter-offer. Instead he made a challenge that struck Congress like a thunder-clap:
I say to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas: Tear up your pact with Hamas! Make peace with a Jewish State!
If Abbas did that, Gaza would not be part of any Palestinian state. What Israel would do about Gaza, Netanyahu did not say.
Netanyahu also reminded Congress that any territorial cession would be hard to make. In plain English, he said that Palestine sits on “ancestral Jewish homeland.” He also admitted that he could not avoid ceding some Jewish settlements. A surrender of any of this land would be very difficult for Jews to accept. But they might accept it, if the PA agreed to “de-militarize,” accept a Jewish state, and live in peace with it. Netanyahu would not give Palestine any riverbank frontage on the Jordan River. He wants to keep troops on that bank, in case Jordan tries to invade. And he adamantly refused to consider dividing Jerusalem again between Israel and Palestine.
As a practical result, an American tourist might pay some extra border-crossing fees, to cross in and out of Palestine when traveling up the mountain from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem. But he might visit Jericho in somewhat greater safety. The current control arrangements involving the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City would not change.
Finally, Netanyahu said that he would allow Palestinian refugees to return to an eventual Palestinian state, but not to any lands or homes that they had left in Israeli territory Thus he would not allow any refugees to return to Jaffa, the site of a mass Arab exodus during the 1947 War.
Reaction to the Netanyahu speech
The Palestinians would have to agree to live in peace. Now they are making statements that suggest that they do not.
Congress received the Netanyahu speech well. Members applauded 58 times, including 20 times that they jumped to their feet. A female heckler shouted from the gallery that Israel should “stop” its “war crimes.” Netanyahu used the incident to show that in America, people can protest like that. (No one would dare behave this way in an Arab land.) Netanyahu also made his listeners laugh:
You think that you are hard on one another. Spend just one day in the Knesset!
Hamas told Mahmoud Abbas to tear up any agreements he had with Israel, not with them.
In delicious irony, some in Israel think that Netanyahu is being far too generous. Netanyahu might have spoken as much to them as to the US Congress.
Though no one mentioned it in Congress today, rumors abound in the region that a “Third Intifada” will occur. Middle East watchers dispute whether a Third Intifada would break out in the next few days or weeks.
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The Netanyahu speech – what next?
Detractors, in America and even in Israel, say that the Netanyahu speech really means that no peace talks will take place. Ha’Aretz in particular says that Netanyahu is playing games and has offered no meaningful concessions. In plain fact, it is up to the Palestinians. Getting a state at all would be far more than they deserve. The Netanyahu speech offers them that, if they will pledge not to use it as a base to attack the rest of Israel.
Instead they call the Netanyahu speech “a declaration of war.” That is simply throwing off on the other side. That, plus their possible “Third Intifada,” should show the world that any negotiations would be futile.
But that is what the Republic of Israel must do again and again: show futility. Israel had to do this for two weeks in 1967, after Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran. Netanyahu did it again today. Only the Palestinians can make his gesture non-futile.
Featured image: the Western Wall, within the Old City. Netanyahu opened the tunnel beneath the Western Wall and took much criticism for it. Photo: CNAV.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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