The Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, might have been a bit surprised tonight to have heard Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say, in a speech that had a big advance build-up, that he views them essentially as a bunch of intruders: “In the very heart of our Jewish homeland today there is a large population of Palestinians”.
Netanyahu said that Palestinians are living in the Jewish homeland and they must recognize Jewish right to be there.
Netanyahu’s speech, at Bar-Ilan University not far from Tel Aviv, was planned and designed as the answer to U.S. President Barak Obama’s speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University on 4 June.
“Our links with the land of Israel, and the presence of Palestinian people living here, have led to many problems”, Netanyahu said.
What the Palestinians have to do, for peace, is “to accept that the Jewish people have a right to live in its historical homeland”, Netanyahu said. “If Palestinian leaders say these simple words to our people, then the path/road will open up”.
Palestinians must accept “the State of Israel as a Jewish State”, Netanyahu said.
Palestinians could live as a “free” people, side-by-side with the Jewish people, with each having its own “national existence”, Netanyahu said, if (1) they recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, and if (2) they agree that “the Palestinian entity must be demilitarized”, with Israel having a real defensive edge.
But the question is is about what Netanyahu means when he suggests that the Palestinians, in his vision, would be “free”.
“The Palestinians cannot have rockets and missiles coming into Israel”, Netanyahu said, and Israel must have security control so that an armed Palestinian state “will not become a terrorist base against Israel, as happened in Gaza”. He said “We do not want missiles and rockets fired upon … [Israel´s] Ben Gurion International Airport”.
The “areas under Palestinian control” can have no army, and no control of the air space, and cannot bring in arms — and there must be real supervision to ensure this, Netanyahu said. In addition, the “areas under Palestinian control cannot conclude military alliances with others (like Iran or Hizballah).
“Israel must control its security and its destiny”, Netanyahu said.
But, apparently the Palestinians cannot do the same.
“If we receive a guarantee about this demilitarized ‘unit’, then we will be prepared to reach agreement to a demilitarized Palestine living side by side with the Jewish state”, Netanyahu said.
[NOTE: We have previously argued that Palestinians should and could make the statements that they are, again, being asked to make about somehow accepting the right of the Jewish people to live and to build a state in Palestine, in articles published here and also on this blog. As to the fears Palestinians feel about such a step paving the way for ethnic cleansing, either of the Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, or of the Palestinians who have permanent residency in Israel because they live in East Jerusalem, or of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, we’ve suggested that formal international guarantees should be sought and given to assure that this would never happen. The linkage that has been created between demography and democracy is, arguably, anti-democratic. Democracy is not always linked to numbers, and it should not be if it would result in a tyranny of the majority and the oppression of the minority, whoever they would be. Palestinians could and pledge to guarantee the existence of the Jewish State, regardless of the numbers. This pledge would be valid whether or not the Jewish people remain the numerical majority in Israel. Israel would remain a Jewish state as long as the Jewish people want it to. But the Palestinians who are citizens, residents, or neighbors of this Jewish state should never be oppressed, or lose any of their full human and natural rights — even, or perhaps especially, under a security pretense.]
The Israeli Prime Minister indicated that Israel must have a defensible border, Jerusalem must be united, with freedom of worship for all, and settlements will apparently stay in place — though no new land will be confiscated. “Reconciliation must start today”, Netanyahu said.
“The problem of Palestinian refugees must be solved outside of the boundaries of the State of Israel”, Netanyahu said — though this is not exactly reconciliation. Netanyahu said that “We ourselves have proven it is possible in similar conditions”, and he added that “with international investment, we can solve this problem”.
Netanyahu argued that “the right of the Jewish people to live on the land of the Jewish people does not derive out of a series of catastrophes. Some say that if the Holocaust had not happened, there would not be a State of Israel. I say that if Israel were created earlier, then the Holocaust would not have happened”.
What needs to be recognized, Netanyahu said, is that “the land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people”.
Some commentators excitedly claimed that in this speech there was a historic first acceptance, by Netanyahu, of some kind of a Palestinian “state”.
The Washington Post, and the American National Public Radio network (NPR) both reported that Netanyahu endorsed a “limited” Palestinian state.
But, in fact, Netanyahu (speaking in Hebrew, heard through an English translation) hardly said the words “Palestinian” and “state” together.
[UPDATE: I wrote earlier that I had not heard these two words together even once. The conditions under which I listened to the speech were less than ideal. Transcripts later received showed that Netanyahu said it three times:
(1) … “there is a real fear that there will be an armed Palestinian state which will become a terrorist base against Israel, as happened in Gaza” …
(2) … “We cannot be expected to agree to a Palestinian state without ensuring that it is demilitarized“.
(3) “I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state“.]
The Palestinian independent politician and political analyst Mustafa Barghouti said later that, in his view, Netanyahu “did not speak about a state, he spoke about a ghetto, a Bantustan.”
Barghouti, a medical doctor who founded and now runs the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, is also an elected member of the Palestine Legislative Council that is suspended from work because it cannot actually meet because it cannot call a quorum of members – so many of the Hamas-affiliated members have been arrested and imprisoned by Israel.
Barghouti also said, in a teleconference call arranged by Media Central, an organization that tries to help journalists cover developments in Israel, that Netanyahu “was very blunt and clear – he sees the whole of Palestine as the Land of Israel, in violation of international law”.
Barghouti asked “Why is he claiming that the West Bank is part of the State of Israel?”
UN Security Council resolutions, and almost all UN member states, regard the territory seized by Israel in the June 1967 war as currently being under occupation – and that means the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights.
Barghouti said that Israel is not the state of the Jewish people alone – 20 percent of the population of Israel are Palestinian Arabs – and it should be the state of all its citizens.
Barghouti said that he did not see anything new in Netanyahu’s speech, but “on the contrary, I see something more malignant”.
And, he said, “We will never accept to live as slaves under apartheid”.
Asked to respond to Netanyahu’s statement that “Palestinians must choose between Palestine and Hamas”, Barghouthi replied that he would say that “Israelis must choose between Israel and Likud” (Netanyahu’s party).
The Jerusalem Post’s political analyst Gil Hoffman said, after Barghouti spoke, that “he didn’t hear the same speech I did. Netanyahu went much further to the left than I thought. The advance expectations were that all he’d say would be that he’d support the Road Map” (with all the reservations Israel already registered).
Hoffman said that Netanyahu wanted to make it clear for the world and for the White House that he’s not talking just for the right, but for a consensus of Israelis. “He wanted to reclaim the people”. Hoffman said he hoped this “would get America to stop pressuring Israel”. He called the speech a very big change in Israeli policy: “Now you’ve got an Israeli government working toward concessions – while until now there’s not been a plan”.
Hoffman asserted “Netanyahu’s main adversary here is the President of the United States”, and then piled on in challenging one of the striking arguments made in Obama’s Cairo speech. Hoffman, running through a quick calculation orally, came up with the figure of the Jewish attachment to Palestine as dating back “3584 years, exactly” — concluding, a little echo of Netanyahu (and of other polemecists who have argued the same thing in the Israeli media for the past few days), that “we’re not here because of the Holocaust”.
Yet, asked what he thought was going on last year, during the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis egotiations (November 2007 to January 2009), Hoffman asserted huffily that the Annapolis process was “totally irrelevant” — and “history”.
In contradiction to Hoffman’s assertions, the UN Security Council – where the U.S. has a permanent seat and a veto right – has adopted several recent resolutions contradicting Hoffman´s assertions – including Resolution 1850 of 16 December, in which the Security Council declared “its support for the negotiations initiated at Annapolis, Maryland on 27 November 2007 and its commitment to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations”.
Then, UNSC Resolution 1860, adopted on 8 January during the IDF´s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, called for “renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace with secure and recognized borders”.
[A “historical” note for some perspective: In an interview in 1980 or 1981 at the Israeli Mission to the UN in New York, with Israel’s then-Ambassador to the UN, Professor Yehuda Blum (whose press attaché was Nachman Shai — later the very visible chief spokesperson of the IDF during the first “Gulf War” in 1990 when Iraqi-fired scud missiles were fired on Israel), I asked why the Israeli government showed such hostility to the UN, which after all authorized the creation of the State of Israel. Blum replied, quickly and cooly, that “Israel was not created by the UN, it was created by the Jewish people”. A year or so ago, I mentioned this during a conversation with Israeli politician Mossi Raz, a member of the Meretz party, and a former head of Peace Now in Israel. Raz responded that “It isn’t a very good argument. I would have said that Israel was created by both — the Jewish people and by the UN”. By the way (BTW), Professor Blum’s successor as Israel’s Ambassador to the UN was none other than Benyamin Netanyahu — and HIS press attaché was Eyal Arad, now one of Israel’s top political strategists whose company also does marketing and public relations campaigns such as the one for Israel’s 60th anniversary. Eyal broke with Netanyahu at some point when Netanyahu was Foreign Minister, and then worked closely with Ariel Sharon, and most recently with Tzipi Livni.]
Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erakat issued a statement later complaining that Netanyahu “left us with nothing to negotiate as he systematically took nearly every permanent status issue off the table. Nor did he accept a Palestinian state; instead, he announced a series of conditions and qualifications that render a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state impossible … He blamed Palestinians for their own occupation, and then imposed a set of preconditions for negotiations that demand Palestinians give up their inalienable rights and surrender their national aspirations for a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.”
No, Netanyahu did not mention two democratic States — the Palestinians called it first: he only wants a state-and-a-half.