Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the Knesset, May 16, 2011. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Toward the end of her unusually heated speech, Tzipi Livni paused for several seconds and sighed. Her sigh reflected despair, pessimism, maybe helplessness.

Netanyahu and his ministers, near the cabinet table, burst into laughter. They saw Livni's sigh as a sign of despairing from becoming prime minister for a long time.

Netanyahu's government was stable before and after his speech Monday, despite his presentation of a map of territorial principles for the first time. He spoke of preserving the settlement blocs, i.e. returning to the 1967 borders with slight adjustments. He also announced Israel would maintain "a military presence," rather than sovereignty, along the Jordan River. By this he adopted Dan Meridor's formula and Ehud Barak's position. These two have been urging him for two years to make such statements.

This was undoubtedly Netanyahu's most dovish speech this term. More dovish even than the Bar-Ilan speech of two years ago. But it was accompanied with a host of rightist mannerisms, aggressive and pessimistic statements and belligerent body language. It was a dove masquerading as a hawk.

The term "settlement blocs" may be a large step for Netanyahu, but this ancient phrase has been bandied about in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation rooms for over a decade. No European or American leader would swoon with excitement on hearing Netanyahu's willingness to give up isolated settlements. They probably wouldn't even believe him.

To sugarcoat the pill, Netanyahu chose to tell the Knesset that "most of the public" supports these principles (like a demilitarized Palestinian state, recognizing Israel as the Jewish people's national state and a united Jerusalem ).

Apparently before writing this and other speeches he prepared for the coming week, Netanyahu sent his public-opinion pollster out to check which way the wind was blowing. He reported his findings to the nation and its lawmakers yesterday, wrapping them around him like a blanket on a winter's day.

Netanyahu's speech was the prelude to his address to AIPAC in Washington next week and to the real thing - the meeting with President Obama and the speech in Congress. He will have to wrap the goods he sold to the Knesset yesterday with newer, shinier paper and perhaps pour new, more daring, ground-breaking content into the package.