It is a measure of how quickly things can shift in the Middle East. Had Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu come to the United States a couple of weeks ago to meet with President Obama and deliver a speech to Congress, one could imagine that he would take a bold step in heading off the impending unilateral recognition of the Palestinian state that is anticipated to occur at the United Nations in September. He might have revived the settlement freeze or even suggested U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state was unobjectionable so long as bilateral negotiations could then commence on borders, security and other final status issues. (I wouldn’t have advocated he do such things, but it was very possible he would have.)
Now that is inconceivable. Fatah has partnered with Hamas. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyed can be expected to exit the scene, and it is unclear what role if any President Mahmoud Abbas will have in a new unity government. Hamas has not renounced terror, recognized the right of Israel to exist, or pledged to abide by past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians’ representatives. Instead, Hamas and Fatah, as Elliott Abrams explains, are maneuvering to avoid such commitments:
When Hamas won the 2006 elections, the US and EU (with Russian support, briefly) adopted what became known as the Quartet Principles: “It is the view of the Quartet that all members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations….”
Trying to get around the Principles in 2006 and again now, the Palestinian formula is that there will be a non-party technocratic government. That way, they can say Hamas is not actually participating in the PA government — not yet anyway. It is a hollow formula, and not only because it merely delays the problem of Hamas’s role until elections are held. Will “all members” of the new government now truly endorse an absolute end to violence and terror, not simply tactically but morally and permanently?
So what does Netanyahu say on May 22, in the wake of all that and with the administration continuing to fund the new unity government? It’s tempting to simply say “I told you so,” but that’s likely not an option for Netanyahu. He must navigate around a hostile administration, keep his government together, engage a supportive Congress, give the Europeans confidence that Israel really does want peace, and prevent the world from taking its eye of the ball — the threat of an Islamic revolutionary Iran with a nuclear weapons capability.
I would suggest the prime minister would be wise concentrate on four themes taking advantage of the presence of a very sympathetic Congress and a large international audience.
First, it is critical for him, given the aggressive international effort underway by the Palestinians to achieve unilateral recognition, to repeat the principles stated at Bar-Ilan University in 2009. Then, he declared, “In my peace vision, there are two free peoples living together side by side in our small land, with good neighborly relations and in mutual respect — each with its own flag, its own national anthem and its own government.” It is not for current purposes important whether that vision is realistic or the goal attainable in the short run. What is critical is that Netanyahu make clear that Israel has not only accepted the concept of a Palestinian state but has also come to the bargaining table repeatedly to make offers that would deliver a state to the Palestinians, should they desire to end the conflict with Israel and end their claims of the right of return. A secure Jewish state with defensible borders and security guarantees (from the United States and the European Union, if need be) is the goal. The reason that there is not such an arrangement is attributable not to buildings or squabbles over land swaps; it is, Netanyahu would do well to remind audiences in the United States, Israel and around the world, because the Palestinian Authority refuses to return to the bargaining table, claims it is unable to negotiate away the “individual right of return,” and will not be deterred from its goal of perpetual war with and eventual elimination of the Jewish state.
Second, it would be beneficial for the United States, Israel and other nations to hear from Netanyahu about Hamas, its record of human rights atrocities, its totalitarian rule in Gaza, its charter and why, therefore, any alliance with the Palestinian Authority dooms the chances for peace. This might seem elementary or unneeded, but the Obama administration needs some public reminding, as does the rest of the Quartet.
Third, Netanyahu would be wise to invite (challenge?) the West to formally reject the Goldstone Report, recognize its factual and legal premises are fraudulent, and end further enforcement actions by the United Nations and other bodies based on the libel that Israel intentionally sought to terrorize and kill Palestinian civilians. It is not only important to set the record straight, but to force governments and nongovernmental organizations to demonstrate whether they have the intellectual and moral integrity to weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Goldstoners, like birthers, shouldn’t have a place at the table with serious parties.
Finally, it is in the interests of the United States and the West more broadly to be reminded that the primary threat in the region is Iran. The United States and the European Union have certainly been busy — passing sanctions, issuing threats and conducting negotiations with the regime. But none of it has worked to end the Iranian nuclear program. While the Palestinians are deciding whether to abandon the effort for peace, it would be a good time, Netanyahu might suggest, to focus on the shared determination in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.
Will Netanyahu do all or some of this? Are there other themes of equal or greater importance? Perhaps. But one thing is certain: He shouldn’t write the speech too far in advance. Anything and everything can change overnight.