Netanyahu's make-or-break speech to Congress
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, long criticized for being passive and reactionary, is under pressure to exhibit the Zionist legacy of risk-taking and initiative in his address to Congress today.
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Among the reasons for Israel's hesitancy is the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal, which unites Israel's Palestinian partners for peace with a group both Israel and the US have branded a terrorist organization; regional upheaval as a result of the Arab Spring, and doubt about Palestinian political will for negotiations.Skip to next paragraph
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A week ago, in an address to the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu dropped hints of a fresh move when he emphasized Israel’s large settlement blocs as core requirements for peace -- implying he'd be willing to cede control over other settlements in the West Bank.
But that was quickly overshadowed by a public clash with President Obama over his endorsement of the 1967 line as a basis for negotiations as well as an Israeli announcement of new Jewish neighborhoods in disputed parts of Jerusalem.
Make-or-break speech for Netanyahu
Analysts believe the unprecedented public confrontation with Obama was initiated by Netanyahu to shore up political support back in Israel, but note that it carries the risk of alienating the US administration. The stakes will be even higher today when Netanyahu goes before the Republican-controlled House; Israeli newspapers portrayed it as a make-or-break speech for Netanyahu’s career at home and abroad.
"He is trying to go over Obama’s head. He is embroiling himself, and trying to use a domestic American sphere to make his case," says a Western diplomat based in Jerusalem."He has allowed [Israel] to be painted as the refuser, as the one who is saying no. Usually it’s the Palestinians that play that role."
To be sure, many in Israel don’t believe that a final status peace agreement with the Palestinians is possible at present because the gaps between the sides are too large. But that doesn’t excuse an Israeli prime minister from suggesting his own plan, says Shlomo Avineri, a political science professor at Hebrew University and a former director general for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
"Between the status quo and the final status agreement there are a whole list of steps that can be taken," says Mr. Avineri, adding that Netanyahu's passiveness is not unique; Israeli prime ministers in the past four decades have generally lacked will and power to embark on dramatic initiatives. "The alternative is not doing anything and hoping for a utopian final status agreement. This would be not helpful because Israel should not appear as being passive and leaving the initiative to others.’’
Many Israelis see peaceniks and settlers alike as reckless, impatient
The impatience with Netanyahu also comes from core supporters. While they applauded his rejection of returning to the 1967 borders, they want the prime minister to annex West Bank settlements to Israel in response to the Palestinian move.
"If you believe that you have the right to annex Judea and Samaria because it's your land, then what are you waiting for?’’ says Yishia Fleisher, director of Kumah.org, an organization which promotes Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Jerusalem. "Why does Israel always to have to always be reactionary?"
But Mr. Halevy argues that Netanyahu’s perceived inaction doesn’t bother the average Israel, and instead reflects widespread disillusionment from ideological movements at opposite ends of the political spectrum that have fallen from popularity.
"Many other Israelis have reached the opposite conclusion: that the recklessness of both the peace movement and the settlement movement, both of which believed that they could bring peace and security to Israel, and instead brought the opposite. For them that’s what brought us to the dead end that we’re in."