Bibi is No Nixon
In his June 14 speech Israel ’s Prime Minister rejected the high ground of some of his conservative predecessors and once again chose to take the low route of his revisionist fathers.
Since WWII many of the significant steps towards peace or decolonization have been taken by men of the right. Many of us can recall that it was the very right-wing Richard Nixon who made the decisive move away from America’s disastrous China policy. It was the one-time apartheid leader F.W. De Klerk who freed Nelson Mandela and agreed to discuss his nation’s future with the African National Congress. The conservative Charles DeGaulle, despite threats of assassination and army rebellions, led France out of its hopeless colonial adventure in Algeria . While many in the world hoped that Benjamin Netanyahu might grasp President Obama’s offer to help achieve a peaceful resolution of the long conflict of Israel and the Palestinians, Bibi yielded very little.
Some commentators, both in Israel and abroad, took satisfaction in Bibi’s “vision of peace” in which he expressed hope for “two free peoples living side by side in this small land.” It was close to the two states for two people’s formulation which Obama had asked for but a much more restricted phrasing. Moreover, it was surrounded by insulting prose and numerous caveats. He spoke not of a Palestinian people entitled to their own state but rather of a “population of Palestinians” living “in the heart of our Jewish Homeland.” Netanyahu did not speak of the West Bank but of “ Judea ” and “ Samaria ” as “the Land of our Forefathers.”
Instead of the sovereign nation that the Palestinian people aspire to, he insisted that they must accept a truncated version of a state. It would be permanently “demilitarized”, have no control of its own air space, accept limitations on its foreign engagements, and give up on the settlement of any refugees within the bounds of Israel . Most of these elements have already been agreed to in previous rounds of negotiation, but their presence in this speech was to reassure the Prime Minister’s right wing base, that he would not yield.
As well, the Prime Minister dragged in two great red herrings demanding that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Jerusalem remain “the united capital of Israel .” First, the Jewish state demand is not an insistence on the legitimating of Israel which Sadat and Egypt recognized, Jordan has done and even Arafat had to yield in agreeing to the Oslo process. In the words of Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the Reform movement: “Zionism is about the Jewish people taking control of its destiny and determining for itself what kind of nation Israel should be.” In other words, all nations, including Israel , freely determine their own nature. Second, the call for a united Jerusalem is a chauvinistic appeal, playing on the Jewish public sentiment to control parts of the old city and the Western Wall, in order to extend Israel ’s control over the Arab lands that were annexed to the city only in 1967. More important, both demands are designed to undermine the American President’s desire to re-launch the peace process.
Netanyahu’s major rejection of Obama was his refusal to accede to a settlement freeze. He couched his wording carefully, not even uttering the catch phrase “natural growth” but instead insisting on the right of the settlers to “live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world.” It was another subterfuge to further continued settlement expansion. No Palestinian leader could possible agree to sit down at the table with an Israel which appropriated more of their lands as discussions dragged on.
The most eloquent testimony to the Prime Minister’s lack of vision and flexibility was given by MK Benny Begin who saw nothing to disturb him in the speech. Begin is, of course, not only the son of the late Menachem Begin but is also a man honored by friend and foe alike as one of the few honest politicians in Israel . Clearly, this steadfast defender of Judea and Samaria , as integral parts of the land of Israel , saw nothing in the speech to threaten his cherished belief in a greater Israel . Begin had promised to resign if the government took any action leading to a Palestinian state. I must agree with Begin’s analysis of the speech. Bibi on June 14th did not aspire to the role of a Nixon, a De Klerk or a De Gaulle. However with more American pressure he may yet be forced to change and lead his nation away from occupation and bloodshed to democracy and peace.