On the issue of negotiations with the Palestinian authority, Netanyahu agreed that peace would be good for both sides. It could lead to developing ties with the other Arab nations, many of whose rulers realize now that Israel is not their enemy. They, in conjunction with the Gulf states, would catapult the economic and social development of the entire region forward, resolving major problems of both water supply and energy.
On that point, he was agreeing with the argument made earlier by Secretary Kerry. The lives of millions in the Middle East, he said, would be made better.
Netanyahu’s goal was a durable peace obtained by mutual recognition of both a Jewish state and a Palestinian one, in which the rights of all citizens would be guaranteed. But for that to work, the Palestinians had to “stop denying history,” and must be “prepared to recognize a Jewish state,” since territorial issues could be resolved but the right of the Jewish people for a state of their own was something that was beyond dispute. The Palestinians had to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees or amputating the country, giving regions that were part of Israel back to the Palestinians. They had to offer “no excuses and no delays,” Netanyahu stated, and thus had to offer recognition to a Jewish state.
That might take decades to filter down to the Palestinian people, and thus any agreement had to guarantee long-term security arrangements on the ground that would protect both Israel and the peace treaty. Israel must, he said, “look for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Netanyahu said that knowing that previous international peacekeepers left when the going got tough, and proved ineffective. He realized that peace would come under attack from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran, and thus they needed a force with which to defend their own Jewish homeland.
“I’m charged with protecting the security of my people, and I will never gamble with the security of the one and only Jewish state.” That force would be the IDF, since they would fight to defend their own homeland — unlike the so-called international peacekeepers who withdrew when threatened.
Turning to the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) he quipped that its letters should really stand for “Bigotry, Dishonesty, and Shame.” That movement, he said, would fail just as had the Arab boycott in Israel’s earlier days. But it needed to be vigorously opposed, because it was bad for peace and was just plain wrong. Its gullible fellow-travelers were supporting a movement whose leaders sought the dissolution of Israel, not peace or reconciliation. Its effect would be “to set back peace by hardening Palestinian positions.”
Moreover, BDS was “morally wrong.” Israel is a healthy democracy, in which its citizens regularly dissent and loudly make criticisms of Israeli policy within the country. It has a free press and protects all religions, including Christians, who are under attack elsewhere throughout the region. BDS was not about criticism, but is an attempt to paint Israel as an illegitimate state, and is “nothing but a farce.”
At a time when other nations in the Middle East were sending academics to prison for their beliefs and hanging gays on cranes in public squares, BDS only called for sanctions on Israel, a nation in which professors are free to say and teach anything they want. It is the only nation that has full rights for gay people, has had women head three branches of government, and has a free press.
How, he asked, “can anyone fall for the BS in BDS?”
Netanyahu said he was not surprised, because throughout history people believed the most absurd things about Jews, and the most influential people had always spread lies about the Jewish people. The lies had become “ingrained in their consciousness,” and were part of “the long and dark chapter of anti-Semitism.” BDS thus had to be treated as we treat any form of anti-Semitism — be exposed and condemned. He supported those who argue that the BDS movement itself should be boycotted, and he applauded those who work to stop the BDS movement from succeeding.
America and Israel, he ended, have to stand together on the right side of history.
His speech was interrupted at many points by huge applause, and by many standing ovations. The largely Democratic members of AIPAC stood together with Republicans in defense of Israel and in support of the prime minister, whom the left-liberals, the members of J-Street, and the opponents of Israel regularly attack as a reactionary, a hawk, and a danger to Israel.
Those writers, who have recently argued that AIPAC’s role is diminishing and would be proved irrelevant, were clearly shortsighted. Its members were committed to intense lobbying and to keeping up the pressure on behalf of Israel and against those who seek its weakening or demise.