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Benjamin Netanyahu Speech: An Analysis
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By Dr. Yoav J. Tenembaum Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's much awaited speech on the peace process on June 14 at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, struck a balance between his domestic audience's expectations and the international community's demands; between ideological precepts embraced by political allies and adapting pragmatically to the new United States administration’s own agenda in the region. Netanyahu's rhetoric was different than some of his predecessors'. It was positive in the objectives that were delineated, though cautious in the path that was depicted to arrive at them. He came out against the widespread assumption that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was caused by the capture of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967. Netanyahu stressed the difference between cause and effect. The latter was the effect of a conflict that began even before the State of Israel was established. And he reminded his audience that the Palestinian Arabs could have had a state of their own had they endorsed the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, which the then Jewish leadership accepted. While stressing the humanitarian need to solve the Palestinian Arab refugees’ plight, he referred to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries that were integrated by a poor and war-torn Israel, without much outside help. Netanyahu prefaced his readiness to accept a demilitarized Palestinian state by arguing that the territories of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) are the cradle of Jewish civilization. Some previous Israeli leaders tended to convey the impression that those territories were a demographic burden to Israel. The Palestinians were expected to relieve Israel of this burden. Netanyahu seems to have altered the basis of discussion in this regard too. Whatever the burden entailed in any possible Israeli control of the West Bank, Israel had to accept reluctantly the fact that it may have to foreswear its own aspirations regarding those territories and endorse Palestinian sovereignty, albeit with certain conditions. As for the nature of any future Palestinian state, Netanyahu was less innovative in content. He spoke of a demilitarized state, having no right to sign any military pacts, especially with Israel's enemies, accepting limitations on the sovereignty applied to its airspace and enjoying no full control of its own border crossings, from which offensive weapons could be smuggled. These terms are taken for granted by the other major parties in Israel. Both the main opposition party, Kadima, and the Labour Party, which forms part of Netanyahu's coalition, accept the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a peace agreement only on condition that such a state be demilitarized and its sovereignty limited in areas where Israel's vital security interests would be at stake. What distinguishes Netanyahu's stance on this issue is the fact that he mentioned, clearly and explicitly, the caveats for the establishment of such a Palestinian state. To be sure, Netanyahu was politically motivated to do so. This was part of the same balance he was trying to strike between the fears of his domestic public and exigencies of his international partners. To help his political allies and his own Likud party digest the idea of a Palestinian state, he had to stress the security limitations upon which such a state would be founded so as to alleviate the ideological and strategic pain entailed in it. Thus, Netanyahu had to emphasize the conditions upon which such a Palestinian state would be set up, not only as a reflection of his own beliefs, but also in order to help moderate any adverse reaction within his own domestic audience. The fact that Netanyahu mentioned, publicly and openly, his readiness to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state under certain conditions, rather than a Palestinian autonomous entity, constitutes by itself a major ideological and political change. Many people were expecting a vague speech, with precious little new in terms of contents. What they got was actually innovative. It said something new, and said so in a manner that opened doors in Washington and Europe without closing doors in Jerusalem.

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Mon, June 22, 2009 02:47 PM (about 116445 hours ago)
Great article . Very clear and to the point. I agree with the author... i wonder what would have happened if the same speech would have been given by Begin in 1977?
Mon, June 22, 2009 02:47 PM (about 116445 hours ago)
Very moderate speech indeed
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