netanyahu obama - GPO - May 20 2011
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, May 20, 2011. Photo by GPO
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Benjamin Netanyahu was in his element Tuesday night. No other Israeli figure is capable of marketing the Israeli narrative with such finesse - nearly perfect. His experience stretches back to the 1980s when, as a young ambassador to the United Nations, he excelled in representing his country in a hostile international environment.

On Tuesday, addressing the U.S. Congress, he maximized his ability as Israel's super spokesman. Netanyahu will return to Israel today as a victor. In the speech war he was not defeated. But whoever expected a political breakthrough in the stalled peace process was disappointed.

Nothing positive will grow from this "sermonizing," which began nine days ago in the Knesset and ended yesterday on Capitol Hill. September is moving closer.

It wasn't the speech of his life nor Bar-Ilan II. At most his speech was a Bar-Ilan plus. He moved toward the Palestinians a bit more than he did in the Knesset in speaking of settlements outside the borders, about "generosity" in giving up land and "painful concessions and unprecedented compromises."

He had to throw Congress some sort of fresh bone. But his nays were more determined and numerous than his ayes. Nearly all the Likud hawks, along with the representatives of Yisrael Beiteinu, rushed last night to give statements of support and praise for the leader.

In his address Netanyahu reiterated the commitment of the State of Israel to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with changes and settlement blocks. No Israeli prime minister would talk about anything less. Long term, this is bad news for the right and the settlers. But who thinks about the long term?

The Likud ministers can compete over who will praise Netanyahu more - it's clear to all that peace will not happen during this term in office. None of them will face a vote, God forbid, on the concessions about which Netanyahu spoke.

No doubt, the man has come a very long way since the last elections to the Knesset two and a half years ago. But, in reality, he is following the Olmert and Barak proposals, and with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as managers of the world - and with a Palestinian leadership that is stubborn and recalcitrant - it is not enough.

Netanyahu's speech will be his political platform for the next elections. He will build his campaign on its elements, against Kadima on the left and Yisrael Beiteinu on the right: willingness to try for peace; agreement to a Palestinian state, but on his terms - security terms, recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, and not with Hamas. That's the only winning formula, Netanyahu believes. It will beat Tzipi Livni or Shaul Mofaz, on the one hand, and Avigdor Lieberman, on the other.

It seems Netanyahu was keen to prepare an alibi ahead of September. If a Palestinian state is declared and is recognized at the United Nations, and subsequently there are clashes in the West Bank, along the northern border and in the east, and possibly within Israel, too, Netanyahu will say: "I am not to blame. I put forth a framework. I expressed willingness. I was ready to give up, to pass over, to dismantle. I spoke before Congress, before the world - and this is what we got from the Palestinians and the Arabs in return."