ANALYSIS / Netanyahu Speech: Soft Words and Hardline Positions

Netanyahu's central aim at Bar-Ilan University was to win widespread public support among Israelis.

The central aim of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday was to win him widespread public support among Israelis. The positions he laid out at the Begin-Sadat Center match those the polls show to be mainstream Jewish opinion: support for the concept of a Palestinian state, without defining its borders; the demand for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; demilitarization to will prevent rockets raining down on Tel Aviv and nearby Ben-Gurion Airport; and a positive, if not overly passionate, attitude toward the settlements and their residents.

Netanyahu stressed in his speech that he is acting for national unity and in the name of coalescence. He constructed it thus to deflect criticism from political extremes, among them those who would accuse him of betraying his principles.

The speech comes after years of a prime minister who was once the most profound opponent of a Palestinian state and who ultimately changed his stripes.

The public praise Netanyahu lavished on the settlers and the allusion to continued construction in the settlements will not mollify the right.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu did not make any tangible concessions in his speech, nor pose any threat to his coalition. All he did was provide some inflammatory copy for the media.

The Left will fixate on the practical difficulties that could keep Netanyahu's offer from actually materializing: his demand from the Palestinian Authority to annihilate Hamas in Gaza; his insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state; and the stipulation that all Palestinian refugees be given asylum outside Israel's borders.

To the Palestinians, these positions are not even worthy of discussion, and the Left will argue that while Netanyahu is trying to show regal flexibility, he is in fact placing the bar so high as to disallow an agreement, thus perpetuating the status quo.

Rightists will argue that Netanyahu is a twig that will snap under even the slightest pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama. The Left, meanwhile, will point out that Netanyahu wasted three months before coming out with these obiously predictable statements, bringing about unnecessary strain in Israel-U.S. relations.

But Obama will have the final word. The main principles of Netanyahu's speech were known to the American administration, its officials were less than enthused with them and did not expect the speech to jumpstart diplomatic efforts. Now we must see how the boss in Washington will react. Will he praise Netanyahu, or ask for "more?"