Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday was in some ways a refutation of the distortions and half-truths which riddled President Obama’s Cairo speech. It can be read in full here. On Iran, the source of Israel’s right to statehood, and the path toward peace, the contrast between the two speeches was stark. And because Netanyahu had the facts on his side and could deploy them, his was a speech grounded in the real world.
On Iran, he did not evade the reality of a nuclear-armed regime. He did not suggest that Iran has any right to pursue its nuclear ambitions or that we are precluded from denying them weapons, as the president bizarrely suggested in Cairo. To the contrary, Netanyahu declared:
The Iranian threat looms large before us, as was further demonstrated yesterday. The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons. I discussed this issue with President [Barack] Obama during my recent visit to Washington, and I will raise it again in my meetings next week with European leaders. For years, I have been working tirelessly to forge an international alliance to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Left out was any indication that Obama shares that concern. Nevertheless, without belligerence and without using recent events to prove his point about the nature of the Iranian regime, he was blunt. For now Israel will work with other nations.
Netanyahu provided a robust retort to Obama concerning Zionism and the right of the Jewish people to a state. Obama would have us believe it is out of sympathy for the Jews because of the Holocaust that the world gave Israel its state. This is false and Netanyahu said so:
The connection of the Jewish People to the Land has been in existence for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked, our forefathers David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah ? this is not a foreign land, this is the Land of our Forefathers. (Applause)
The right of the Jewish People to a state in the Land of Israel does not arise from the series of disasters that befell the Jewish People over 2,000 years — persecutions, expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, murders, which reached its climax in the Holocaust, an unprecedented tragedy in the history of nations. 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. (Applause) The tragedies that arose from the Jewish People?s helplessness show very sharply that we need a protective state.
The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People. (Applause)
As the first PM David Ben Gurion in the declaration of the State, the State of Israel was established here in Eretz Israel, where the People of Israel created the Book of Books, and gave it to the world.
Obama did not and perhaps could not acknowledge as much. His “Muslim World” listeners wouldn’t have accepted that and it would have made clear that Israel’s claim to statehood is not rooted in sympathy but in fact and history.
But Netanyahu’s most complete argument was reserved for the nature of the Palestinian crisis and the key to unlocking peace. Unlike Obama, who is fixated on settlements and the status of the West Bank (and who therefore omitted 60 years of history), Netanyahu’s vision is based on the simple truth of Palestinian intransigence. With facts on his side, he provided a history lesson for his American allies and whomever else will listen:
Friends, with the advantages of peace so clear, so obvious, we must ask ourselves why is peace still so far from us, even though our hands are extended for peace? Why has the conflict going on for over 60 years? To bring an end to it, there must be a sincere, genuine answer to the question: what is the root of the conflict? In his speech at the Zionist Congress in Basel, in speaking of his grand vision of a Jewish homeland for the Jewish People, Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the State of Israel, said: This is so big, we must talk about it only in the simplest words possible.
I now am asking that when we speak of the huge challenge of peace, we must use the simplest words possible, using person to person terms. Even with our eyes on the horizon, we must have our feet on the ground, firmly rooted in truth. The simple truth is that the root of the conflict has been ? and remains – the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish People to its own state in its historical homeland.
In 1947 when the United Nations proposed the Partition Plan for a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the proposal, while the Jewish community accepted it with great rejoicing and dancing. The Arabs refused any Jewish state whatsoever, with any borders whatsoever.
Whoever thinks that the continued hostility to Israel is a result of our forces in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is confusing cause and effect. The attacks on us began in the 1920s, became an overall attack in 1948 when the state was declared, continued in the 1950s with the fedaayyin attacks, and reached their climax in 1967 on the eve of the Six-Day War, with the attempt to strangle Israel. All this happened nearly 50 years before a single Israeli soldier went into Judea and Samaria.
To our joy, Egypt and Jordan left this circle of hostility. They signed peace agreements with us which ended their hostility to Israel. It brought about peace.
To our deep regret, this is not happening with the Palestinians. The closer we get to a peace agreement with them, the more they are distancing themselves from peace. They raise new demands. They are not showing us that they want to end the conflict.
And for those who still insist on withdrawl (or in Obama’s case, unilateral concessions) he had a simple answer: it hasn’t worked. He again provided the mini-course in recent history:
We tried withdrawal by agreement, withdrawal without an agreement, we tried partial withdrawal and full withdrawal. In 2000, and once again last year, the government of Israel, based on good will, tried a nearly complete withdrawal, in exchange for the end of the conflict, and were twice refused.
We withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the last centimeter, we uprooted dozens of settlements and turned thousands of Israelis out of their homes. In exchange, what we received were missiles raining down on our cities, our towns and our children. The argument that withdrawal would bring peace closer did not stand up to the test of reality.
With Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, they keep on saying that they want to ‘liberate’ Ashkelon in the south and Haifa and Tiberias.
Even the moderates among the Palestinians are not ready to say the most simplest things: The State of Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish People and will remain so. (Applause)
So what’s his solution? He’ll go anywhere for peace, listing the countries he’s prepared to visit. He suggested numerous economic measures (“an economic peace”) to pave the way for a political peace. He will work toward a two-state solution with a demilitarized Palestinian state and defensible borders for Israel. He requires only one thing: “The fundamental condition for ending the conflict is the public, binding and sincere Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish People.” And what about the settlements? Well, he’s sticking to Israel’s prior deals:
The territorial issues will be discussed in a permanent agreement. Till then we have no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements. But there is a need to have people live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world. The settlers are not enemies of peace. They are our brothers and sisters.
As Elliott Abrams explains, he “stuck with the Bush-Sharon” bargain: “He referred to two aspects of that bargain (no new settlements and no confiscation of land in the West Bank for settlements), but it can be assumed that he’ll stick as well to the other two parts of the deal (no financial incentives for settlers, and construction only in already built-up areas).”
One can’t but admit what a vast gulf there is between Obama’s distorted history and Netanyahu’s accurate one, and between Obama’s formulation that Israel’s territorial concessions must precede unconditional recongition and Netanyahu’s diametrically opposite view.
Where do we go from here? Nowhere, it seems. But let’s be honest that we weren’t going anywhere before. The Palestinians have no viable government, have not resolved their internal conflict between the PA and Hamas and still refuse to concede Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. So the rest is, pardon the expression, commentary. For those who like to get their history right, Netanyahu’s is the more compelling because it is, as Obama likes to say, honest.