Before Benjamin Netanyahu stood at the lectern to give his foreign policy speech Sunday night, the most optimistic prognostications went like this: It took Charles de Gaulle, a man of the political right, to recognize that France must leave Algeria. It took a Richard Nixon to go to China, a Menachem Begin to give up the Sinai for peace. So perhaps Netanyahu, the lifetime nationalist, would recognize the demands that history have thrust upon him, change political direction, and lead Israel toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
So much for optimism. Responding to the diplomatic challenge posed by President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, Netanyahu delivered an inadequate, internally contradictory and disappointing message.
Yes, he did say for the first time that he would be willing to accept a “demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.” Formally, that’s a shift from Netanyahu’s previous rejection of a two-state solution. It’s a step forward, if measured against the positions that Netanyahu laid out when he first sought the leadership of the Likud in the early 1990s, when he wrote of allowing the Palestinians autonomy in four “counties” that would rule one-fifth of the West Bank.
Relative to Israel’s diplomatic record, however, the speech was a leap backward. Even the archetypical hawk, Ariel Sharon, had already accepted the principle of a two-state solution—however limited he actually expected the Palestinian state to be. Sharon recognized that Israeli rule over the West Bank was “occupation” and paid lip service to the U.S.-backed “road map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Netanyahu did neither. Netanyahu’s erstwhile colleague on the right, Ehud Olmert, concluded that for Israel’s own sake, to maintain its Jewish majority, it would have to give up political rule over at least some Palestinian areas of Jerusalem. Netanyahu repeated the tired slogan of “Jerusalem remaining the united capital of Israel.”…
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