As for the Palestinian issue, the stark difference between Netanyahu’s words and Clinton’s was the lack of the secretary of state’s obeisances to a spurious evenhandedness.
Netanyahu stressed that “my government has removed hundreds of roadblocks, barriers, and checkpoints in the West Bank … help[ing] spur a fantastic economic boom there” and has “announced an unprecedented moratorium on new Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria.” He then asked: “What has the Palestinian Authority done for peace?” He also gave a brief, bitter catalog of the PA’s stonewalling of talks and ongoing anti-Israeli diplomatic and propaganda campaign.
On Iran, noting that its rulers see Israel as a “one-bomb country,” Netanyahu called its imminent nuclearization “an unprecedented threat to humanity” and said “Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves.”
It is a note Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have sounded before, giving the benefit of the doubt to international efforts against Iran while also giving them a special prod. At this late date, is it still a credible message? The Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to dissuade Israel from acting against Iran, reportedly even including the denial of bunker-busting bombs, suggest the message is still taken seriously.
Again, as on Jerusalem and other issues, a crucial gap between the two allies: “sanctions that bite” versus survival.
Netanyahu devoted the last part of his speech to reaffirming Israel’s value as a U.S. ally after a recent high-profile statement by General Petraeus seemed to cast doubt on that notion. “For decades,” Netanyahu said, “Israel served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Today it is helping America stem the tide of militant Islam. … We share intelligence and we cooperate in countless other ways that I am not at liberty to divulge. …. Militant Islam does not hate the West because of Israel. It hates Israel because of the West.”
Netanyahu’s speech was eloquent, nuanced, and strong; but he remains the junior partner. The noble tonalities of the two speeches do not conceal the differences over the crucial issues of Jerusalem, the Palestinians, and Iran. Netanyahu’s speech treaded a fine line between honoring Israel’s alliance with the U.S. while signaling that he has to put Israel’s interests first. He will have to live up to that in action and not just in rhetoric.