Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's foreign-policy address to the Knesset on Monday made one thing clear: He is preparing for a confrontation with the Palestinians. On the eve of his trip to the United States, Netanyahu sought to muster public opinion and create internal unity. The purpose of his trip to Washington is to maintain U.S. support for Israel ahead of the third intifada.
Netanyahu's situation assessment is chilling. The Middle East is in the throes of instability. Iran and its allies, Hezbollah and Hamas - "the new oppressor," as Netanyahu called them, using a word reserved for some of the greatest villains in Jewish history - seek to destroy Israel and the Jewish people. Israel has no Palestinian partner for negotiations and a peace agreement, and there will be no such partner in the years ahead.
In the pivotal portion of his speech, Netanyahu referred to the Palestinian girl at the Nakba Day demonstration in Bil'in who held a large key. "Every Palestinian understands what key this is. It is not the key to their homes in Bil'in or Nablus or Ramallah, it is the key to our homes in Jaffa, Acre, Haifa and Ramle." The message is clear: We are fighting for our homes. "They" want to get rid of us and establish Palestine on the ruins of Israel. Now is the time to dig in and and fight them.
On Nakba Day this week, the Palestinians outflanked Israel in the public consciousness front. Instead of violent demonstrations in the territories, they emerged from refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and headed for Israel's northern and southern border fences. They want to inculcate their narrative in Western public opinion: They are unarmed demonstrators who have come to demand justice and realize their right of return. No terror, no suicide bombers, only nonviolent protest against oppression and humiliation, like Mahatma Gandhi and the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
The self-evident analogy to Zionist history are the illegal immigrants' ships that broke the British regime in Palestine. On the operational level, the British could deal with the illegal immigration: They intercepted most of the ships on the high seas and brought their passengers to prison camps in Cyprus. But they could not cope with the superiority of consciousness of a beaten people, a third of whose number had been murdered in the Holocaust and whose survivors sought to return to their historical homeland. The Palestinians now want to do the same thing to Israel: They are marching toward the land of their fathers with flags and patriotic songs, and the Zionist enemy is driving them out with guns toward the horror of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas underscored this narrative in his op-ed in The New York Times yesterday, which focused on the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes in 1948. (He ignored their refusal to accept the United Nations Partition Plan, and their war against the Jews in pre-state Palestine. ) Abbas wrote that international recognition of Palestine and its acceptance into the UN would be compensation for the injustices of the past and would grant the Palestinians the diplomatic and legal tools to continue their struggle to eject Israel from the territories.
Netanyahu declared Monday that the Palestinian unity government of Abbas and Hamas would not be a partner for peace, and thus had put an end to any chance of negotiations. So as not to be accused of intransigence, he incorporated in his address two signals of future flexibility. His demand for the presence of the Israel Defense Forces on the outer border of Palestine was limited to "the Jordan Valley' and the "Jordan River," as counseled by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Netanyahu also insisted on holding on to the large settlement blocs in the West Bank, and implied that what is outside the settlement blocs is open to negotiation. That is not a new position; he considered including it in his so-called Bar-Ilan speech of two years ago, and decided that it was too soon. Since then he has visited Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion and declared that they would remain forever in Israeli hands. He did not say such things about Kiryat Arba or Itamar.
Netanyahu's remarks are good for fans of nuance and iteration, but are meaningless on the ground. Netanyahu will have to make good in some way on the U.S. pledge that Palestine will be created only through negotiation, and not unilaterally. He threw out two dry bones, and tomorrow he will receive recompense from President Barack Obama. The Israeli public will also find it easier to support the government if it is convinced that the government is prepared to "give up parts of the homeland" in exchange for peace.
Monday's "intifada of the fences" this week was the first taste of the approaching clash with the Palestinians. Netanyahu wants to arrive there prepared, with the public and the Americans at his side. That will be his focus in Washington.