Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset today, in which he outlined his conditions for a peace pact with the Palestinians, is already being interpreted as being to “hawkish” to create the proper atmosphere for peace. That’s the word the New York Times’s Ethan Bronner used to describe a speech in which the Israeli leader made it clear that Israel is prepared to give up almost all of the West Bank and recognize a Palestinian state.
For years, Israel’s critics have chanted that its government had to give up the dream of a “greater Israel.” But now that even the leader of the supposedly hard right-wing Likud has stated that all Israel wants is to retain control of its capital Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs (which take up a tiny portion of the West Bank and which President Bush agreed in 2004 will remain part of Israel), this is still too “hawkish” a position for the Palestinians to be expected to return to the negotiating table. Indeed, as Bronner noted, Netanyahu’s program for peace included items that no Palestinian leader has ever stated a willingness to accept. These include: recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people; a peace agreement that spells the end of the conflict; and acceptance of the unalterable political fact that the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian Arab refugees must be resettled inside a Palestinian state and not on Israel’s territory. But if, as the Palestinians and many in the cheering section abroad insist, Israel must concede every inch of disputed territory even before peace talks begin, and the Palestinians will not give up the right of return or recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s existence even in the context of peace, then what could Netanyahu possibly do that would make him seem any less “hawkish” to his legion of critics?