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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.

By Staff writer / May 24, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, May 24.

Susan Walsh/AP

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The peace process is going nowhere. That's the practical take-away from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint session of Congress this morning.

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Of course, he didn't frame it that way. But between a series of preconditions he placed on a return to negotiations and a public insistence that an indefinite Israeli occupation of the Jordan Valley is nonnegotiable, that's the message that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would have received. An Abbas aide said the speech amounted to a "declaration of war."

Mr. Netanyahu's speech had been teed up by members of the chattering classes as "make or break," an opportunity for the hawkish Israeli leader to regain some diplomatic initiative. The Palestinian effort to be recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in September as an independent state is gathering steam and political change in the Middle East is upending longstanding security relationships.

Instead, Netanyahu basked in the glow of more than 20 standing ovations from the both sides of Congress (the joint session rivaled the AIPAC convention with its outpouring of support for Bibi) and reiterated his long-standing positions:

  • Jerusalem is nonnegotiable, Israeli property now and forever (East Jerusalem is not considered by most states, including the US, to be Israeli territory);
  • Palestinian negotiators, presumably the Palestine Liberation Organization, must recognize Israel as a "Jewish" state as a precondition for talks (the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in 1993);
  • Mr. Abbas must "tear up" the unity government deal he inked recently with Hamas as a precondition for talks (the unity arrangement is, among Palestinians, one of Abbas' most popular accomplishments for years);
  • No Palestinian refugees or the descendants of refugees will ever be allowed to return to Israel proper; and the Palestinians must accept a permanent Israeli military presence in their midst as part of an eventual peace settlement.

While many of these things are longstanding Israeli positions, it still stings Palestinian audiences to hear them stated, particularly so forcefully and with such ringing support from the legislature of the most powerful country in the world.

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