In a major speech today at the Begin-Sadat Center of Bar-Ilan University, Binyamin Netanyahu laid out his vision to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. In brief, it's a fine speech, making many needed points, but it fails on the critical point of prematurely accepting a Palestinian state.
Here are some of the high points, important statements eloquently articulated:
"The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons."
"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."
"The closer we get to an agreement with [the Palestinians], the further they retreat and raise demands that are inconsistent with a true desire to end the conflict.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel's borders."
The principles that guide his government's policy: "Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people" and "The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel."
The problematic section concerns the acceptance of the two-state solution. (By the way, I predicted that Netanyahu would accept this goal at his meeting with Obama on May 18; turns out, I was off by four weeks.) In the key passage of today's speech, Netanyahu stated:
If we receive [a] 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.
While I personally have given up on the two-state solution, I also do accept that it could work in theory. But Netanyahu does not lay down enough conditions for that theoretical moment. All he requires is a formalistic guarantee and recognition, which the years of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy should have established as inadequate. In addition, the Israeli government should also require, at the least:
A complete overhaul of messages coming from textbooks, classrooms, media, sermons, political rhetoric, and the other areas of public Palestinian discourse, eliminating the anti-Semitism, the anti-Zionism, and the incitement while condemning terrorism and other acts of "resistance" (muqawama).
A protracted era in which Palestinians do not engage in violence against Israelis.
Normal relations in such areas as trade, tourism, sports, and scholarly exchanges.
A good-neighborly foreign policy.
To make matters worse, Netanyahu accepted the discredited 1990s premise of a "new Middle East" when he stated that "a strong Palestinian economy will strengthen peace." Have not the last fifteen years established that Palestinian wealth fuels the war machine?
Comment: In his first term as prime minister in 1996-99, Netanyahu established a record of weakness and I worried two months ago, as he was forming the present government, that "Neither his party's history, nor his own biography, nor his character, nor murmurs coming out of Israel suggest that he will keep his electoral promises." His speaking today of a "Palestinian state" constitutes the first major breach of those promises. Let us hope it is the last. (June 14, 2009)
Mar. 18, 2015 update: Nearly six years on, and in the midst of an election campaign, Netanyahu has changed his mind about a Palestinian state:
NRG REPORTER: Some of the people are deciding between Bayit Hayehudi and Likud. You said your Bar Ilan speech isn't relevant. Are you the same as Bennett in your ideology that you won't create a Palestinian state?
PM NETANYAHU: I think that anyone who goes to create today a Palestinian state and turns over land, is turning over land that will be used as a launching ground for attacks by Islamist extremists against the State of Israel. That's the actual reality that has been formed here in recent years. Whoever ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The Left does this, sticks their head in the sand, time after time. We're realists and understand. The test is who will form the next government. I'm not going to give in. They wouldn't amass the heavy campaign against me if they thought that I'm not the barrier. They understand this. We've stood up against strong pressure and we'll continue to do so.
NRG REPORTER: If you are the prime minister, a Palestinian state won't be created?
PM NETANYAHU: Indeed.
Comment: As someone who came out six years ago against the two-state solution (see here), I am pleased that the politician who may again be Israel's prime minister has changed his mind. Perhaps now we can discuss realistic options, such as the Jordan-Egypt option.