Sunday 21 June 2009

The Netanyahu Response

Almost a week has passed since Benjamin ("Bibi") Netanyahu delivered his long-awaited speech at Bar Ilan University. The speech was given a huge billing as it was presented as being a response of sorts to Barack Obama's Cairo speech. The eyes and ears of the international community were focused on what Netanyahu was going to say. In particular, there was much speculation about Netanyahu's response to the two key American demands i.e. the two-state solution and the settlement freeze.

The issue of the settlements was addressed towards the end of the speech, probably not entirely to the satisfaction of the American mediators. Whilst the Prime Minister conceded that there is no intention to build new settlements or set land aside for new settlements, he nonetheless offered support for the settler community. Indirectly, he alluded to the need for ongoing natural growth in the existing settlements.

On the issue of a two-state solution, his position seemed closer to what the Americans were hoping to hear. He recognised the rights of the Palestinians to have a state of their own. He described it as demilitarised, a fact which angered some. Nonetheless, he did acknowledge the right of the Palestinian people to have a state alongside the Jewish state.

Although many felt that the acknowledgement of the two-state solution was the significant moment in the speech, for me this was not the case. My main focus was on the first half of the speech which Netanyahu used to emphasize the rights of the Jews to have a state in the Land of Israel. Whilst Bibi seemed to be trying to be subtle about expressing this point of view, Saul Singer wrote a forceful article in the Jerusalem Post in which he argues that the problem with the two-state solution is not that Israel is denying the Palestinians a state. The problem is that the Arabs are continuing to deny Israel the right to be an independent Jewish state. This position dates back to long before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and has been the cause of the numerous wars and terror attacks, all of which are aimed at destroying the Jewish state.

The only reason why there is any hesitation by the government and the people of Israel in welcoming the establishment of a Palestinian state with open arms, is because of the suspicion and fear that this state will be subversively used to try to destroy Israel and the Jews living here. It is my contention that unconditional recognition by all Arabs of the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish country will bring an immediate end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. If this is so, then surely the Americans are concentrating their efforts in the wrong place? They should be convincing the Arabs of Israel's right to exist rather than convincing the Israelis of the rights of the Palestinians to have state.

Although Bibi conditioned the existence of a Palestinian state on it being demilitarised, I think that he got the condition wrong. He should have conditioned it on the Palestinians unequivocally signing up to the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Nothing less will be acceptable.

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