“Palestinian state.” On the evening of June 14, 2009, Binyamin Netanyahu said it. Usually a composed and artful speaker, he was in an obvious condition of stress, his voice husky and the words often forced. His grim demeanor and constricted body language bespoke not only external pressures but also inner turmoil, a culmination of difficult decision-making.
His speech coincided with dramatic events in Iran, events that seemingly bear out Netanyahu’s and Israel’s position that Iran is not seeking peace but war, and that the idea of dialogue with its leaders is dubious at best and deadly dangerous at worst. But Netanyahu said little about Iran. He asserted that “the biggest threat to Israel, and the Middle East and all of humanity, is the meeting between radical Islamism and nuclear weaponry” — and left it at that.
Instead his focus was on the Palestinian issue — specifically on the points of contention between him and President Barack Obama. Obama, more than any other individual in the world, was Netanyahu’s audience; his speech was both a public address and a personal message to a U.S. president who has stunned him with the vehemence of his very public demands.
In an obvious rebuff to Obama’s implication in Cairo on June 4 that the Holocaust and other Diaspora persecutions formed the justification for Israel’s existence, Netanyahu stated: “The right of the Jewish people over our country does not come from the suffering we have been through. Some say if it weren’t for the Holocaust there would be no state if Israel. But I say that if Israel had been established in time there would not have been a Holocaust.”
As he put it forthrightly: “Our right to establish our country here stems from one fact: Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and it is here that our identity was forged.”
That set the stage for his fundamental challenge to the Palestinians, an attempt by an Israeli prime minister who looks harried, worried, and even desperate, to get the ball somehow into their court. “The simple truth,” he said, “is that the root of the conflict is the refusal to accept the Jewish people’s right to exist in its historic homeland.” And more explicitly: “The Palestinian leadership must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”
Netanyahu detailed the Palestinians’ long history of rejectionism, from the 1947 UN Partition Plan and even earlier, down to the spurned offers of statehood by Israeli governments in 2000 and 2008. He cited the unilateral Gaza disengagement in which “we uprooted Jewish settlers from their homes, and received a barrage of missiles in return.” He called for an end to the demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel, recognized by almost all Israelis as a demand by Palestinian “moderates” for Israel’s political dissolution, and for an end to Palestinian incitement against Israel.