Netanyahu's real message to Congress: There will be no peace talks
OK, those words didn't come out of his mouth. But that's the practical meaning of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress this morning.
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Netanyahu's insistence that "in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers," won't have helped matters either. The UN and virtually every state views the West Bank (the biblical Judea and Samaria) to be occupied. While he's referring to Jews' religious claim on the area stemming from the Bible – a stance that receives strong support in Congress – Palestinians view that kind of language as highly insulting.Skip to next paragraph
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The Palestinian disunity that has prevailed since Hamas won 2006 elections, with the Islamist group in charge of Gaza and Abbas' secular Fatah party in charge of the West Bank, has been one of Palestinians' major weaknesses. With Hamas completely outside the process, it was hard to see how Abbas and other Palestinian negotiators could deliver on any promises that they might make. But Netanyahu, who called Hamas a "Palestinian version of Al Qaeda," demanded today that the Palestinian leadership go back to square one on that issue.
Hamas certainly favors the use of violence against Israel, and is branded by both Israel and the US as a terrorist group. But it is a powerful, well-supported force in Palestinian society, and shares neither Al Qaeda's ideology nor its ultimate goals.
It's quite simply not possible to meaningfully negotiate a peace without finding a way to bring them along. Some had hoped their presence in a unity government while the PLO led peace talks would have been an acceptable compromise.
To be fair, the outlook for peace talks was grim before Netanyahu spoke. Neither Abbas nor other Palestinian leaders have been willing to give up their insistence that Israeli settlement expansion in occupied land stop before peace talks could resume. Just yesterday, Israel approved almost 300 new settlers homes in the West Bank.
But Netanyahu's words will have helped harden positions – at a time when President Obama is reaching out to Europe on Israel's behalf, urging states there not to sign on to the Palestinians' push for nationhood under UN auspices.
The idea has been warmly received in many European capitals, where diplomats reason that perhaps it's time for a unilateral solution to the mess in the Holy Land. Part and parcel with that effort comes an increasing framing of Israel as an illegitimate occupier who is being asked to withdraw to internationally recognized borders. Obama warned against efforts to "delegitimize" Israel at the end of last week.
Still, there are growing signs of impatience with Israel everywhere you look.
Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, took to Twitter after Netanyahu's speech. "Not easy to be optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East after having heard PM Netanyahu's address to US Congress," he wrote.