Text size

Here is a sensational news item: Next month, the prime minister will deliver a speech to the U.S. Congress. In all probability, this will be a polished, excellent address, one crafted in Benjamin Netanyahu's characteristic style and language.

Netanyahu will explain why Israel is right, and he will expound upon the dangers it faces. He will warn about the Holocaust threatened by Iran; and he will announce that Israel is prepared to engage in negotiations, and that the Palestinians are the side dodging peace talks. He will point out that we live in a bad neighborhood, and that when winds are howling outside, it is not the right time for hasty decisions. He will praise America's democratic tradition and its economic system, and his words will warm the hearts of those who view us as a little United States.

Netanyahu will persuade those who are already converted, but it will be a speech to the wrong nation. Netanyahu does not need to deliver a foreign policy address to the Americans. He should speak to the Israelis. Netanyahu has yet to explain to Israelis how he views the future of the state of the Jews. Citizens of Israel, not of the United States, are the ones who elected him; and he owes them an account of how he sees their future.

Two years after Netanyahu was elected prime minister, despite the fact that his party did not garner the most Knesset seats, there are those in Israel who believe that he has failed in his job since he has not promoted talks with the Palestinians or initiated diplomatic policies. However, Netanyahu has done exactly what his ideological beliefs dictate: He has not relinquished the lands of Eretz Israel.

He has, to be sure, bandied around promises, in Israel and overseas, and affirmed that he wants to go ahead with negotiations. Yet his deeper desires point in the opposite direction, and the Palestinians, with their obstinate extremism, and President Obama, with his inexperience, have played into Netanyahu's hands. Two years have gone by and there are no negotiations; no settlement has been evacuated; building in the territories continues; and Israel's hold on these lands has strengthened.

Once we ignore the hefty price Israel has paid in terms of its international standing, Netanyahu's tactics appear to have been vindicated. But Netanyahu must explain to citizens of Israel - and not to peoples of the world - where he intends to lead the State of Israel. He owes Israelis an explanation of his goals and the tactics he has adopted to achieve them. Put simply: What sort of Israel does he envision in another few years?

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and former Defense Minister and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens have expressed their view, which adheres to Likud's traditional position: Israel, they say, should hold on to the lands of Judea and Samaria and eventually annex them. In deference to the liberal aspects of the ideology of Likud patriarch Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Rivlin and Arens say that Israeli citizenship should be conferred to Palestinians. Yet a careful reading of their statements reveals that they have qualms about this. Palestinians on the West Bank, they suggest, should receive citizenship "when the time comes," "gradually," "in keeping with circumstances."

The annexationist genie, which was always a staple of Likud ideology, has come out of the bottle. Clearly its implementation would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Of course, Rivlin, Arens and their colleagues deny this.

Citizens of Israel are entitled to know whether the Arens-Rivlin view is shared by their prime minister. The prime minister must go beyond public relations gimmicks and tactics, not all of which are reprehensible, and clarify the key point: Does Netanyahu see Israel continuing to control millions of Palestinians? If so, he should say that publicly; if not, he should outline the alternative he proposes. No public relations speech, no matter how successful it might be, can exempt him from his obligation to speak to the nation that is settled in Zion, not the one whose capital hugs the shores of the Potomac.