I will write in more detail on the divergent speeches of President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when I return from South Asia, but I’ll just put down a few immediate thoughts here.
There was something tragic about Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress, and something bizarre about attempts to demonize Obama’s earlier speech as anti-Israel. Obama’s framework – a return to approximate 1967 borders with agreed land swaps – is the formula that U.S. and Israeli leaders have been talking about for the past two decades. It is the basis on which Israeli leaders from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak to Ehud Olmert negotiated with the Palestinians.
True, final agreement was not reached. But the reason those Israeli leaders attempted to talk on that basis was that they knew Israel could not forever rule over 3-4 million disenfranchised Palestinians. That is all the more true at a time when Mideast revolts are enabling many Arab publics, for the first time, to have a voice in political systems that were long run by autocrats or despots. In the coming era, Arab publics will be much more vociferous in pressing their leaders to obtain those rights for Palestinians.
Netanyahu has every right to put Israel’s security foremost. However, it is one thing to state Israel’s readiness to accept a Palestinian state, conditional on full recognition by Palestinians and Arabs and. It is another thing to put forward a proposal that is not and never could be a Palestinian state – a Palestinian entity cut off from its historic capital, Jerusalem, with Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley, and with settlement blocs chopping up the West Bank into fragments. This is a formula for a Bantustan, not a Palestinian state, and Netanyahu knows it.
Instead of putting the onus on the Palestinian side by offering a solid proposal and daring them to respond, daring them to drop the law of return in exchange for realistic borders and a shared capital, Netanyahu did the opposite. He made clear that he still, as he always has, believes that Israel can hold on to much or most of the West Bank forever.
Keeping the West Bank – and effective control of Gaza – will present an existential threat to Israel as the Arab population in Greater Israel eventually outnumbers Israeli Jews there. With the peace process now dead, that seems the direction in which Israel is headed. And, sadly, an unwitting Congress cheered an Israeli leader who seems determined to lead Israel down this destructive path.