This is what a leader looks like. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu pulled off quite a speech before a joint session of Congress today, striking a theme that Israel is what’s right about the Middle East, not what is wrong with it. Citing Israel’s strength (“You don’t need to send American troops to Israel, we defend ourselves.”) and Israel’s tolerant democracy (“Of the 300 million Arabs, less than one half of one percent are free and they are all citizens of Israel.”) Netanyahu laid out the case that while Israel makes concessions for peace, the Palestinians make deals and make war. Netanyahu declared that he will accept a Palestinian state (as other Israeli leaders have declared in the past) but said it is time for Palestinian leaders to say “I will accept a Jewish state.” Those six words, said Benjamin Netanyahu, would change the world.
Netanyahu also spent a few minutes discussing the “Arab Spring,” reminding the world of a previous Persian Spring that broke out in 1979 but ended in tyranny in Iran. That tyranny spread to Lebanon and crushed its Cedar Rebellion years later. Netanyahu thus undercut the unrealistic enthusiasm that has permeated reporting on the Arab Spring, and undercut President Obama’s engagement policy with Iran — even while flattering the president himself. This was masterful diplomacy.
The Israeli PM reiterated what he told President Obama directly in Washington last week, and that he said before AIPAC Monday: That Israel will not return to the 1967 borders. He declared that the Palestinian “right of return” means Palestinians have the right to immigrate to a Palestinian state, and that Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel (returning to the 1967 borders would divide the city). Netanyahu also drew attention to the Hamas charter, which still calls for Israel’s destruction, calling into question the very idea of negotiating with “the Palestinian version of al Qaeda.” Netanyahu called for Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to tear up his agreement with Hamas and negotiate for peace with Israel. If they did so, Israel would be among the first nations to welcome a Palestinian state to the international community and the UN. In this, Netanyahu echoed President Reagan’s famous and prophetic “Tear down this wall” speech.
At the end of the day, Netanyahu’s was a very impressive speech. Not a word of it will have to be “clarified” or walked back in a day or two. It will not be “misunderstood,” as President Obama claims his speech of last week has been. Netanyahu was as clear and forthright as he could be on the basis of war and conflict and the path to peace. This, as I opened the post, is what a leader looks like.