Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Netanyahu mostly said the right things yesterday in his speech to the American Congress; he mostly said them with the wrong timing; and many of the reports on the speech are unreasonable or uninformed or both.

First, an historical fact which is not open to interpretation. Netanyahu broke substantial new ground in his speech. No Israeli prime minster before Ehud Barak spoke openly about Israel recognizing Palestinian sovereignty. Not because they couldn't imagine such a thing, but because it was assumed such Israeli recognition was an important negotiating chip, to be played at the right time. Barak played it at Camp David in July 2000, and in return got praise from President Clinton which no-one remembered half a year later. At the time, however, Barak pretended nothing he had offered was real unless an agreement was reached, as if he could take back what he had offered. So Barak never gave an official speech recognizing Palestine. Nor did Sharon. Olmert may have: it was certainly his position, and since he was prime minster later than Barak, the reluctance to speak openly was gone. Yet Olmert presided over a center-left Israeli government. Netanyahu spoke yesterday about Israel's being the first to recognize a sovereign Palestine, if only the Palestinians reach an agreement with us. He said this in a speech watched by millions, as the head of a right-wing Israeli coalition.

We've come a long way from Golda Meir saying "there is no Palestinian nation", and indeed, we've come a long way from the positions of Yitzchak Rabin, remembered worldwide as a brave Israeli leader seeking peace: Rabin never said there'd be a sovereign Palestine, he never intended to move back to the lines of 1967, and he never would have dreamed of dividing Jerusalem. On the first two, Netanyahu, for all his verbal gymnastics, is to Rabin's left. Moreover, the assumption all over Israel's media today is that he enjoys broad support in the Israeli electorate for his positions.

Not that you'll find any of this in the international media's reports. Here's the New York Times:
His speech broke no new ground concerning the peace process, but it was not expected to. Israeli officials said that Mr. Netanyahu could hardly lay out new proposals to an American audience without telling his own people first.
Palestinian officials were dismissive of Mr. Netanyahu’s message, saying it included no new concessions along with the new demands.  
The Economist will appear in print only on Friday, but their first web response is that
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, addresses a joint session of Congress with a speech that was big on hype but short on substance
Haaretz, far to the left of either the NYT or The Economist, thunders that
Netanyahu wasted the generous credit he got from his American hosts to cast accusations at the Palestinians and impose endless obstacles in connection with the core issues. Instead of accepting the principle that the border between Israel and the Palestinian state would be based on the 1967 lines, Netanyahu declared that the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers in Judea and Samaria.
He couched his readiness to make far-reaching concessions within endless conditions that have no relation to reality.
What are Netanyahu's conditions which are so far from reality, pray tell? First, there's his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jews, as Palestine will be that of the Palestinians. It seems a perfectly reasonable requirement, unless both sides agree on an end to the conflict and relinquishing of all future demands in an agreement which contains no right of return. Essentially, the two demands are the same thing: if there's no right of return and there is an end of conflict, then the Palestinians indeed don't need to proclaim their recognition of Israel being the Jewish State. So far no Palestinian leader has ever said openly that he will relinquish the demand for a right of return, or even hinted that he might recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Until a democratically elected Palestinian leadership which can deliver on its words does this, there will be no peace.

Netanyahu then said Israel would never move back to the lines of 1967. This is also a fact. No Israeli government ever will. The question is what happens to the 5%, give or take, which won't be relinquished, and what will be given in return. This has been the topic of much discussion between negotiators over the past 18 years, and will continue for a while yet. What would Haaretz have expected? That Netanyahu say he'll dismantle Modi'in Illit?

Finally, there are Netanyahu's demands that Palestine be demilitarized, a demand any sane (and electable) Israeli leader will always make; and the demand for a military presence along the Jordan River. I'm not enough of a military man to know how extremely essential this really is, especially if Palestine itself is demilitarized; it's aimed against Jordan and Iraq, not the Palestinians.

Then there's Jerusalem. Netanyahu says it can't be divided, and of course he's right. Barak and Olmert offered to divide it, but fortunately the Palestinians weren't interested. I certainly hope that Netanyahu's position will be that of all future prime minsters, since the reality of dividing Jerusalem will never bring peace.

The summary of all this is that Netanyahu is now staking roughly the same positions his predecessors took, from 2000 onwards, and is well to the left of Rabin and Peres in the 1990s. He - and they - enjoyed a broad consensual support among Israel's voters, now bolstered by a prime minster of the political right. The Israeli electorate is willing - some are eager - to live alongside a sovereign Palestine, but on conditions the Palestinians cannot remotely accept. So there will be no peace anytime soon, as all reasonable observers know, and have known for years.

The main thing to regret is that Netanyahu didn't give this speech two years ago. Had he spoken this way when he and Obama were both new in their jobs, the chemistry between them would have been much better, and the positions Obama would have taken would have been different. Look how close they are right now, in spite of all the smoke and mirrors about profound disagreements. Precisely because peace between Israelis and Palestinians is not possible in our generation, it is crucial that Israel's leaders always position themselves as wisely as possible. This means doing everything reasonable to maintain active good will between Israel and the US, and giving Israel's dwindling friends in Europe something to work with. Had yesterday's speech been the official position of Netanyahu's government all along, as it has been the position of most of the electorate, this would have been easier to do.


AKUS said...

There was one very interesting new statement of what has probably been discussed behind closed doors before, but never in public.

As far as I can tell, Netanyahu was the first PM to point out that if an agreement is reached, some Jewish settlements/communities will lie beyond Israel's border with a Palestinian state - e.g., Jews in Hebron, or in one or two larger settlements that are not close to Jerusalem. His reference to "Greater Tel Aviv" meant, I assume, that Ariel will remain in Israel's hands.

This is a shock for some of the settlers who adamantly refuse to contemplate a likely future reality, no doubt, but also means that he has finally realized that he can throw the racism card back in the face of the Palestinians - if they refuse to accept Jews in the West Bank, as Jordan does, who then are the racists?

Barry Meislin said...

Of course, Netanyahu is talking nonsense.

Whatever "settlement," or town, or city, or building or garage or shack or platform, or shack or structure of any kind that finds itself in any area governed by Israel's Partners in Peace (Inc.) will be ransacked, razed, shredded, burnt to the ground.

To the immense satisfaction of the oppressed.

The model, the precedent, the future(?) is the greenhouses in Gaza.

File under: "Burn baby, burn"

NormanF said...

In an ideal and sane world, both countries would be open, tolerant and happy.

The reason there's no peace is because the Palestinians are not yet ready to accept Israel. It may take them a few more generations to come around to it.

Israelis can soldier on, knowing they have done everything they can to attain peace on acceptable terms. One day, it might happen.

It just won't be in our lifetime.

Silke said...

Josef Joffe still can't make out Obama and as best I know he isn't even left or an unconditional Israel supporter - he is editor of German DIE Zeit and a member of the Hoover Institute.

So if Joffe hasn't managed to figure it out after so many months why should Netanyahu have known it right from the beginning?

and here he is at amazon

All in all I don't know where to place him - maybe that's why he seems so spot on to me when he describes another unplaceable?

Kevin said...

But what about Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech in 2009. Most of the points he made in Congress and at AIPAC's meeting he had made in that speech already. So I don't think the chemistry has anything to do w/Netanyahu's position but rather w/ Obama's intellectual distance towards Israel. Jennifer Rubin had a good point: Obama has been thus far all around the world but not to Israel. My guess is a visit in Israel would have given him credit w/Netanyahu and created confidence in Obama's administrations commitment to Israel.

Anonymous said...

Given the ignorance Obama displayed on everything from his great-uncle to Israel's founding and the history of Islam/Arab-US relations, I'm not sure anything would have helped. Livni clearly couldn't create a coalition that openly froze construction in Jerusalem.

On a cheerier topic
on excavations of early synagogues in the Galilee and the Golan Heights.

Yaacov said...

Kevin -

The Bar Ilan speech took place in Hebrew, at an unofficial venue, in an unofficial context. Capitol Hill is not like that. Also, if you compare the tones of the two speeches, the one in Congress was emphatically more positive. Most significant, however, has Netanyahu been able to say to Obama from day one: We welcome a Palestinian state, and it will be on most but not all of the West Bank, and we'll leave settlements outside it or dismantle them but they won't be able to block a Palestinian state - then his interaction with Obama might have been different. Rather than argue with the man, he'd have been able to say "look, I want something similar to what you want, now let's see you deliver the Palestinians. Instead, it has ben 2.5 years of clashing with Obama, and the Palestinians get to pretend, spuriously, that we're the ones blocking progress while they're the victims.

Avigdor said...

We have to remember the context when Netanyahu gave the Bar Ilan speech. There were plenty of American pundits and officials who were suggesting that if you put pressure on Netanyahu you can break his coalition and bring Livni to power.

Netanyahu's speech was less about negotiating anything and more about harnessing the Israeli consensus to show that he wasn't going anywhere.

Silke said...

Since Victor is not going to do it himself I do it. I think he has the best post on the subject that I have come across hitherto and yes that includes all my favourited haunts. Young Victor beats them all ;o)

I like it so much because of the history I learnt from it, because it sounds plausible to me and because it doesn't indulge in any What-Iffery and/or If-only-ery.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
American Pressure, Israeli Resistance and the 1967 Lines

Saul Lieberman said...

Fatah/Hamas are not the kind of enemy you can make peace with. So there is no deal to be made now. The rest is commentary... or managing the process.
Perhaps recognizing Palestinian sovereignty remained an important Netanyahu negotiating chip - to be played only when the Palestinians might get UN recognition.

Lydia McGrew said...

"The main thing to regret is that Netanyahu didn't give this speech two years ago. Had he spoken this way when he and Obama were both new in their jobs, the chemistry between them would have been much better, and the positions Obama would have taken would have been different. Look how close they are right now, in spite of all the smoke and mirrors about profound disagreements."

I disagree, Yaacov. I don't think you understand our President. He is profoundly anti-Israel, and there is nothing Netanyahu could have done to change this. He and N. are not "close" in their positions unless N. blames Israel for everything and wants Israel to make, right now, immediate, unilateral, and suicidal concessions to the Palestinians. Since presumably (even on your own account), N. doesn't, he and Obama are not "close."

This President is not a friend of Israel. It's a big mistake for Israelis to think that he is or ever will be, and it's an even bigger mistake for Israelis to blame themselves for the negative vibes they are getting from him. The biggest mistake of all will/would be making concessions to try to earn his good will. Fortunately, Netanyahu doesn't seem to be committing this mistake.

Sérgio said...

I totally agree with Lydia. Right at the begining I had this suspicion that Obama-mia was a fraud, an empty vessel with a façade of rethorical skill. By now it´s clear he´s an ideological arrogant idiot and even his rethorical skill is gone. I just can´t stand his "Now,..." or "Listen..." crap.

As Silke said somewhere else, he stands for nothing, except for a half-baked semi-digested and morally bankrupt type of PC-"internationalism". In sum, despite all of his irresponsible arrogance and presumptiousness, he remains that same old "community organizer" he was trained to become. And he should have kept doing that.

the_raptor said...

Yaacov, Lydia is right. For a good analysis of Obama's rigid ideological framework, sometimes concealed by tactical pragmatism combined with outright lying, see Andy McCarthy's "Obamacare for Israel
We have seen this Obama two-step before"

Anonymous said...

It's not the speech that has brought the public positions of Obama and Netanyahu together, it's the open revolt of the Democratic leadership.

Even if Livni had been PM, there would have been a demand for a major concession to bring Abbas back to the table. To 'strengthen' Abbas. And to make Obama look good.

Too many times, Abbas has defied the US with hardly a murmur, in fact in several cases he was rewarded. When Netanyahu did 85-90% of what was asked, Obama screamed it wasn't enough. That suggests more than tactical considerations were at play.

Silke said...

Walter Russell Mead supports my (gut) feeling that Obama stands for nothing -

I still can't believe it, usually very measured WRM (Democrat) goes for all-out bashing.

And over night I remember what that kicked-out Obama advisor said that they had created? Brand Obama and were doing well with it. I don't remember having been told who those "they" were but they certainly have not been doing something useful.

And Sergio -

the stuff about the rhetoric was clear from the beginning. It was only those bash Bush no matter what "intelligentsia" who kept insisting that it was there.

As I keep telling I remember more than one journalist saying after an event during the campaign that he couldn't remember afterwards what exactly the now president had talked about.

I have so wished to be wrong at the time, since blacks all over the world certainly could profit from a truly brillant poster child.

Arik Elman said...

You're jumping to numbers which have no support in Israeli public. People think of keeping between 15 and 25 percent of the WB, not 5, and certainly not with any "equal swaps", which are like keep your hand and cut out your leg.

Sérgio said...

"I have so wished to be wrong at the time, since blacks all over the world certainly could profit from a truly brillant poster child." Silke

Well, and that´s what they´ve got: a poster child, period.

I confess I loathe this typicaly "progressive" thing that one should "cheer" one of our "group" that has got there.

A person should be judged by his individual character, integrity, abilities and achievements, and not cheered a priori just for being a "representative" of the current "excluded/oppressed" group.

Silke said...

not many decades ago I would have agreed with you. When they first came up with that women quota thing in Germany I was deeply embarrassed but though it still embarrasses me quite a bit I have to admit that I am proven wrong day in day out.

If the world will be a better place when we have our equal share I have no idea but at least nobody sane tells me anymore that being good at math is bad for my cute little head and I hope no other young girl has to stand up against those ridicules these days

Sérgio said...


People have different talenst/abilities and, for good or bad, these are just not distributed uniformily. Men have different abilities within themselves and different abilities than women and vice-versa, and this includes cognitive and physical abilities. Andm yes, some people are *better* than others in some abilities which are currently valued (and soem extremely well paid, such as top soccer or basketball players).

Not recognizing this fact is sacrificing reality, truth and objetivity at the altar of PC-ideology of total egalitarianism. It´s indeed atotalitarian project, as if harmony and happiness will follow from an equal number white and black soccer players, or of male and female nurses/mathematicians/social workers.

This is insane, un-real (in fact, surreal) and only generates major hypocrisy, delusion, injustice and disappointment.

Now (as the current POTUS would have said, aaargh!) one should be allowed the free *choice* of one´s career (and then assume the corresponding responsibilities of the necessary preparation, study, work, difficulties and sacrifices).

IF, in the future, an equal (or greater) number of females will be mathematicians/engineer/neurosurgeons, that´s great. Same if more and more men decide to be care-taker/nurses/psychologists, that´s wonderful.

But wbat if people still choose more or less as they always did? Well, that´s ok too, because it would have been their choice. But forcing a situation against reality is plain ideological stupidity.

Silke said...


it is not about more women becoming mathematicians, it is about not getting ridiculed for liking math or feeding babies.

Below is a piece which quite accurately describes my current unease with the excesses feminism indulges in i.e. you and I agree except for one small but important point.

Sometimes a society has made a fortress out of something and then it needs more than patiently chipping at it with a chisel in order to get things fluid again. That after a breach has been accomplished things regularly tend to get exaggerated in the other direction is one of the sadder facts of life.

But it does not do away with the necessity for that first breach of the fortress.

that's about describes it how we started out

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,”

and now we insist that we have no obligation to self-defend at all. Shame on us!

And it is not only about us women it is what seems to be happening with the queer issue also.

The pendulum goes from necessity to exaggeration until another pendulum from necessity beats some sense back into the exaggeration.

Sérgio said...



And these un-necessary pendulum oscillations cause lots of damage to people, and all that because some
ideologues, disguised as experts/educators/pedagogues or whatever, came up with their "revolutionary" solution of the world´s problem. These peope are dangerous.

Silke said...

and I disagree

it isn't only the fault of those who push it into a hype it is also the fault of all of us.

Intoxicated by new freedoms we have disregarded those who wanted to put in stops again and again. None of them seemed convincing enough at the time and even today I couldn't for the life of me say where the right lever would be to get this unfolding madness back into the realm of reason.

The only indicator I have that I may have come to my senses is my by now more than 5 year old "tolerance" of religious people. Amongst them seem to be found the biggest clusters of people who have kept their sense of proportion of propriety intact.

A guy named Paul Saffo said on the Economist podcast the other day only half-jokingly that it was kind of time for a new religion.

Maybe Jewish communities opening lecture halls real and/or online for non-Jews with the explicit goal of non-conversion might foster a seed. (just dreaming due to the studies Yaacov tells about once in a while.)

Avigdor said...

Hey Silke,

There is some outreach like this being done. Of course, there have always been non-Jews studying Jewish texts with Jews and being inspire by Jewish traditions. But speaking of a more organized movement...

I know that the Chabad community, for example, is getting its feet wet with distributing knowledge about the Noahide Laws. Here's an decent article about it.

I've heard of formerly Christian congregations which have adopted a more Noahide model, mainly in the south and west - Texas, California.

The basic point is, the Jewish faith doesn't say you have to be Jewish to be a good person. Conversion in the Torah has never been equated with salvation or judgement.

You know, I've had friends - Muslim and Christian - who were actually offended when I told them that I am not interested in converting them. They were actually insulted, as if I told them they weren't good enough to be Jews. The point is, they don't need to be Jews to be good, which is a concept oftentimes missing from mainstream Christian and Muslim practice.

However, while we don't look to convert anyone, the Torah isn't only concerned with Jews. It is a universal document, a blueprint of creation, and as such, it makes requests of both Jews and non-Jews.

The Noahide Laws are the condensation of the laws affiliated with non-Jews, and actually include much of what we Jews study and practice.

The resources in observant Jewish communities are quite limited, so this limits outreach capacity. The Noahide movement needs to build to a certain critical mass until it's able to fund and sustain its own growth. It's not there yet, but maybe in the next 20 years we'll see something interesting evolve.

Avigdor said...

This seems to be a popular book on the subject.

There's even a Noahide community in Germany:

Silke said...

Thank you Victor

I'll sure read it, but right now I feel shy again, because

I am very convinced that I am not "good person" material and that my energy available to try to become a good one is almost non-existent.

No I am not being facetious, I think too many (compulsory) religion hours in school with the horror picture of the nailed to the cross man in front of me have cured me from that once and for all.

Whenever I get a glimpse it is the brain gym that fascinates me, the heights of lawyerly contortious thinking you seem to indulge in that is what "turns" me on.

BTW there was a Dutch guy who seriously studied Zen-Buddhism before WW2 in Japan and wrote a book about it. At one point he wanted to convert and his master said "what for?" i.e. at least the Zen-ones don't do conversion either
- it is an interesting book and has helped me a lot finding my own path through all those opinions. but strangely enough only in German - oh no here it is, he goes by another name with

Silke said...

come to think of it Yaacov's "legal" stuff combined with Zen-Koans and Zen's physical disciplines replaced by something from Feldenkrais and I'd become a disciple tomorrow

- no need to believe only to abide by whatever is considered/agreed upon conducive to what? a feeling of unity maybe, of being less confused of being more tolerant of absurdity? or as that one Greek used to say "what is good for the life"

(Feldenkrais by itself is already very good for the life, mentally and physically, provided the teacher doesn't overreach)

Sérgio said...

Sorry, Silke, for now I am the one that disagrees (surprise!).

I don´t see how any new or old religion will solve anything about humanity. Religions tend to become panaceas and humans are too complicated, greedy (in the sense of wanting it all) and ambivalent to stick to such demanding stricturs. Moreover, religions *have* to assume the existence of a super-natural super-powerful being, which goes against everything we learned through centuries of painstaking scientific and philosophical research: there´s just *no* evidence whatsoever for such an hypothesis.

So, I´d rather stick to the less-than-exciting secular humanism
(not of the proselytizing brand) and to the ethics of "enjoy life and help others live enjoyable lives" variety (with all the caveats and limitations entailed by that).

Silke said...

wrong again

Moreover, religions *have* to assume the existence of a super-natural super-powerful being

Zen-Buddhists not only don't have to assume they aren't even remotely interested in thinking about the possibility.

As best I understood it they exercise trying to do understand the impossible. The exercise tends to give them health problems why I'd prefer it to be replaced by Feldenkrais.

Hach, another one of your basic assumptions destroyed ;-)))))

Sérgio said...


Bhuddism is *not* a religion.

BTW, according to Lavoisier, nothing is really destroyed, just transformed.

Final Score: Sérgio | 6 | 6
Silke | 1 | 2