Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an outstanding opportunity yesterday to present a vision of a just and sustainable peace for Israel and the Palestinians. Millions watched his speech at the U.S. Congress with bated breath.
They anticipated a momentous address that would break the stalemate in the diplomatic discourse over a final peace agreement and lead to the end of the bloody conflict between the two peoples. Many hoped the new winds blowing in recent months in the Middle East would also sweep the prime minister along a new path.
In recent days, Netanyahu's associates have even given indications that the prime minister would present "new ideas and formulations." Instead, we were witness to the same old messages.
Netanyahu wasted the generous credit he got from his American hosts to cast accusations at the Palestinians and impose endless obstacles in connection with the core issues. Instead of accepting the principle that the border between Israel and the Palestinian state would be based on the 1967 lines, Netanyahu declared that the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers in Judea and Samaria.
He couched his readiness to make far-reaching concessions within endless conditions that have no relation to reality.
He demanded that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas forgo reconciliation with Hamas in advance. Netanyahu contended that six Israeli prime ministers tried to come to a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, but failed, purportedly because of the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
He ignored all the positions by two of his predecessors, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, on a fair division of Jerusalem, an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem and particularly on agreement on exchanges of territory that would leave a decisive majority of West Bank territory in the hands of the Palestinians.
The prime minister will return home from the United States without major developments to show for himself. He is leading Israel and the Palestinians into a new round of violence, along with Israel's isolation and deep disagreement with the American administration. The time has come for the large numbers of those in Israel who seek peace to be heard. Israel deserves a different leader.