Benjamin Netanyahu at Congress - Reuters - 24.5.2011
American politicians giving Benjamin Netanyahu a standing ovation, one of dozens, during his speech to Congress, May 24, 2011. Photo by Reuters
Text size
AP
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs Sen. Joseph Lieberman on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2011. Photo by AP

WASHINGTON - Sara Netanyahu once said during a family gathering that if her husband had run for president of the United States, he would easily be elected (assuming, of course, that he were legally allowed to run). Indeed, in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address before both houses of Congress on Tuesday, he made impressive use of all the gimmicks of an experienced and sharp-tongued American politician.

The extent of the applause he received throughout his speech shows that the many years he spent in the United States as a high school, college and graduate student, as a deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and as an ambassador to the United Nations were not wasted time.

Netanyahu proved that he has no Israeli equal when it comes to plucking the strings of American patriotism, of guilt feelings over the Holocaust, and most of all, of the wish of Congress members to preserve their close ties with the large Jewish organizations. Lest we forget, the strength of the applause bears no relation to the genuine interests of the State of Israel.

Netanyahu's peace plan, if that is the right phrase for the collection of unrealistic terms he presented to Congress on Tuesday, leads straight to the burial of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, an international crisis and a UN declaration of a Palestinian state. In a bad scenario, these terms suggest that Netanyahu is ignorant of proposals placed before the Palestinians more than a decade ago. In an even worse scenario, the "far-reaching compromise" he describes proves that his relationship with the settlers and his partners on the extreme right (if not his own ideology ) is more important in Netanyahu's view than the strategic interests of Israel or the existence of a Jewish democratic state.

Netanyahu's plan does not even vaguely resemble the one proposed by then-President Bill Clinton in December 2000. A viable Palestinian state and Israel's annexation of settlements populated by 250,000 people are mutually exclusive. Even a magician the likes of Netanyahu cannot find the empty territory within Israel to compensate for the settlement blocs he wants left in Israel's hands.

Netanyahu declared Tuesday that Jerusalem will not be divided, as if moving the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Palestine and making special arrangements for the Temple Mount and other parts of the Old City were anything but wishful thinking. His absolute rejection of a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem completely ignores the 2002 Arab League formula, which proposes a fair and agreed upon solution to the problem on the basis of UN Resolution 194.

Netanyahu's rejectionist attitude was most evident in his dramatically delivered statement that six Israeli prime ministers, including himself, failed in efforts to reach a settlement with the Palestinians because of their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu knows full well that no Arab leader, and especially no Palestinian leader, will utter such a statement if he values his life. He also knows that without reconciliation with Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cannot sign an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state that will include the Gaza Strip. After all, Netanyahu himself uses the excuse that Abbas represents only some of the Palestinians and that therefore there is no value to an agreement with him.

The speech-making of recent days has been entirely removed from reality and as such, the chances are slim, if any, that it will lead to any change. The key has now moved even deeper into U.S. President Barack Obama's pocket. Netanyahu the American hero essentially declared yesterday that he was challenging the American president. Obama will have to decide, and soon, whether he will pick up the gauntlet and send Netanyahu a bill for his refusal to accept the principle without which no speech on Israeli-Palestinian peace has any value: the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with exchanges of territory that are mutually agreed upon, fair and realistic.