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On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give a foreign policy speech in response to President Obama’s address to the Muslim world. Mr. Netanyahu’s advisers say that the speech will add a Zionist perspective that the prime minister felt was lacking from Mr. Obama’s speech. While he is also expected to talk about key issues, such as settlements, he will likely do so only in broad terms to leave room for future negotiations.
Unlike Obama's Cairo speech, however, Netanyahu's is not expected to make much of a splash. Though many Israelis will likely appreciate the prime minister's efforts to reinject the Zionist perspective into the debate, both Israelis and Palestinians say they are not expecting to hear about any major departures from the policies that have been in place for years.
Officials close to Netanyahu have emphasized that the prime minister is not giving the address in the hopes of settling any long-standing diplomatic questions. The Washington Post reports that among other issues, some Israelis took issue what they perceive as Obama's Arab-slanted recount of history during his Cairo address.
It associated Israel's creation directly with the Holocaust, for example, rather than acknowledging the long-standing Zionist efforts to provide a Jewish homeland. It also dated the problems of Palestinians to Israel's creation in 1948 without mentioning Arab rejection of a proposed partition plan and other events that Israelis regard as fundamental to the conflict.
Yet within Israel, many are having a hard time giving the prime minister's forthcoming speech much weight. An opinion piece in Haaretz wrote that the speech is "already looking like Israeli partisan spin at its worst." The author argues that Netanyahu will likely struggle to balance between keeping his coalition happy while simultaneously leaving room for negotiations in any future peace process.
It was hard to find any lawmakers Saturday night – from the right or the left – who thought Netanyahu would make a groundbreaking address tonight that rivals those of Ariel Sharon on the Gaza disengagement, or Olmert's remarks at Sde Boker that Israel was willing to evacuate West Bank settlements in exchange for "real peace."
Netanyahu will likely find his toughest crowd among the Palestinians. Many are expecting the prime minister's address to be an attempt to escape pressure from Obama and the international community to freeze settlement and recognize a future Palestinian state, reports the conservative Jerusalem Post.
Ma'an, a Palestinian news agency, reports that the speech "will add nothing new to the public discourse" and may mislead the international community. Reflecting a deep held cynicism throughout the Arab world, many of the Palestinian officials say with or without the speech they question how much progress can be made with Israel's conservative government, but showed some signs of hope on account of the new US administration.
Meanwhile, others point to the speech as a sign of growing friction between Israel and the US. After the Israeli prime minister shared details about his planned speech with George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, Al Jazeera reports that Mr. Mitchell said the Israeli leader's plans for peace were "not adequate" from the perspective of those in Washington.