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Netanyahu Speaks, but what does it mean?

Dr. Richard L. Benkin

Bar Ilan University, Israel, June 14: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave his long-awaited speech about the Middle East today just ten days after US President Barack Obama made his long-anticipated speech to the Muslim world. Spin doctors on all sides were out in force even before Netanyahu’s echo died. From Washington, Obama’s Press Secretary issued the following. “The President welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech.”

From Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared, “The speech has destroyed all initiatives and expectations… and constitutes a clear challenge to the Palestinian, Arab and American positions.”

From the Israeli Right came at least one threat to bolt Netanyahu’s coalition; while an the Israeli Left spokesman said the speech was “too little, too late.”

Stripped of rhetorical flourishes and history lessons, Netanyahu’s speech made the following points.

“The greatest danger confronting Israel…is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons.” (Read: Iran remains our priority.)

“The root of the conflict… remains the [Arabs’] refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.”(Read: Peace requires Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.)

“The claim that territorial withdrawals will bring peace… has up till now not stood the test of reality.” (Read: No more withdrawals like Gaza.)

“The Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel's borders.” (Read: No right of return.)

“There are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the state of Israel would never have been established… [but] this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged.” (Read: Obama missed the point; our rights long pre-dated the Holocaust.)

“In my vision of peace… two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect.” (Read: Okay, a Palestinian State.)

“A demilitarized Palestinian state.” (Read: But only a demilitarized one.)

“Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.” (Read: Arabs find another capital.)

“[No] new settlements [but] a need to enable the residents to live normal lives [and] raise their children like families elsewhere.” (Read: A freeze on new settlements but allow natural growth of existing ones.)

“The Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path of Hamas.” (Read: Hamas is not a peace partner.)

Some allege Netanyahu accepted Obama’s “two-state solution.” Other say his demilitarization condition means he has not. But the fact is none of it matters for Netanyahu had the “gall” to suggest that Israel had some demands, which Arabs have vowed never to accept: that they recognize Israel as a Jewish State; give up on their plan to destroy that Jewish State with their right of return to turn it into a majority-Muslim state; and forget about dividing Jerusalem and again prohibiting Jewish religiosity as they had before.

As recently as May 7, the Arab League rejected an American request to moderate these elements in its “peace initiative.” “Hard line” Syria said “I don’t see any justification for amending this initiative.” “Moderate” Jordan re-stated its “commitment to the initiative as it is without change.” After today’s speech, Palestinians and other Arabs angrily asserted that their demands were not negotiable and suggesting otherwise is “an obstacle to peace.” Normally, negotiations are not conducted with the end already imposed on one of the parties; but normality does not hold when the Arabs are involved.

So, whether Netanyahu’s acceptance a Palestinian State or not does not matter—because we’ll never get that far until Arabs recognize peace is a two-way street with mutual rights. Their reactions for the past 60 years suggest we not hold our breath waiting for it to happen.