In essence, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech was memorable because he is Israel’s democratically elected leader and its major face to the world. Netanyahu is a powerful speechmaker, a man who can hold his own with any of the greatest orators of our time. And in a period when Israel is threatened as it never has been before, and when an international campaign of delegitimization is under way, his very appearance in the United States has great symbolic meaning. But since he was scheduled to make his important speech later before both houses of Congress, the speech to AIPAC had to be of lesser importance.
Nevertheless, tension existed as protesters from various leftist groups, most likely via MoveOverAIPAC, managed to get in and tried to interrupt Netanyahu’s presentation. Six different times in different places in the grand ballroom of the D.C. Convention Center activists unveiled red flags and began to shout obscenities. They were quickly surrounded by audience members, Israeli security, and guards, and dragged out of the room.
How did they get in? One was standing right by in the press section. He was immaculately dressed in a black suit, so no one would suspect he was part of the bedraggled group that picketed outside. He had a press pass, which he easily could have acquired from a legitimate outfit, making it easy to pass the tough security. The prime minister, undoubtedly accustomed to such interruptions, quipped: “Do they allow protests in Gaza?” We all laughed, knowing full well that anyone who tried to protest Hamas would be quickly arrested and most likely even killed.
Netanyahu’s most important line of the short speech: “It’s time to stop blaming Israel for all the region’s problems.” Peace with the Palestinians is “a vital interest” to Israel, ” … but it is not a panacea for the endemic problems of the Middle East.” (The text can be read here.)
The line that got the most attention, however:
Tomorrow in Congress, I’ll describe what a peace between a Palestinian state and the Jewish State could look like. But I want to assure you of one thing. It must leave Israel with security. And therefore, Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines.
And defining the nature of Israeli democracy, he said that democracy is the key:
Democracy — real, genuine democracy. And by democracy, I don’t just mean elections. I mean freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, the rights for women, for gays, for minorities, for everyone. What the people of Israel want is for the people of the Middle East to have what you have in America, what we have in Israel — democracy. So it’s time to recognize this basic truth. Israel is not what’s wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East.
As I type, the prime minister just said the very same words to Congress. I will blog later about the meaning of the speech to Congress.
Update: Netanyahu’s speech to Congress
I have little to add to the comments made by many others on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, which I watched in my hotel room before driving home. Jonathan S. Tobin, I think, has put it best: “Netanyahu’s gutsy decision to refuse to take the ambush planned by the White House lying down was thought impertinent by many observers but it was the right decision. Rather than being cowed by the administration’s pressure play, Netanyahu’s assertion of Israel’s rights and security illustrated something that his country’s critics don’t seem to understand: the American people back Israel.”
You can read the entire speech yourself. The Israeli P.M. made it clear that he accepts mutual recognition of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living side by side. The Palestinian state has to be independent and viable. But it must be, he warned, fully demilitarized, with an Israeli military presence on the banks of the Jordan River.
Netanyahu also emphasized that the settlement blocs that were large and already settled would have to be part of Israel proper, as well as other areas critical to its survival. He acknowledged, however, that some settlements will be outside of Israel’s borders. But, his main point as he said many times, is that Israel is not the nation that stands in the way of peace, but rather, the Palestinian people are. Israel is ready to recognize a Palestinian state; the Palestinians to this day have not made clear their willingness to support or recognize the Jewish state.
Finally, he made it clear that there will be no “right of return.” Israel will recognize a large Palestinian state, but that new state must be the area in which refugees will be able to return. And Jerusalem must be Israel’s united and sovereign capital.
The speech was, therefore, a complete triumph for Netanyahu. The Prime Minister gave Barack Obama a message: Both houses of Congress, recognizing the people of the United States of America, firmly support Israel and its just demands. The President, now, must back down and get in line with the people’s representatives, including the leaders of his own political party. Since the now infamous White House meeting, the President has been outfoxed and outmaneuvered by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Update : Netanyahu’s speech to Congress must be anchored on security’ at the Tatler.