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Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress: a Reinforcement, not a Renegotiation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of the U.S. Congress for the second time today (and for the first time in fifteen years), fresh off a meeting with President Obama on Friday, Obama’s Middle Eastern address Thursday, and dueling weekend speeches between the two leaders at AIPAC.

The first few minutes were well-used defining the scope of the current fight against Islamist extremism (“from the Khyber Pass to the Straits of Gibraltar”), pointing out the genocidal rhetoric and growing nuclear capability of an Iranian regime whose only pause in its drive toward becoming a nuclear weapons state came when it truly feared military action, and welcoming the Arab revolutions while cautioning that 1979 Iran provides a foreboding precedent that should inform us all of how wrong such actions can go, even when undertaken with the best of intentions:

So as we share the hopes of these young people throughout the Middle East and Iran that they’ll be able to do what that young woman just did — I think she’s young; I couldn’t see quite that far, we must also remember that those hopes could be snuffed out, as they were in Tehran in 1979.

You remember what happened there. The brief democratic spring in Tehran was cut short by a ferocious and unforgiving tyranny. And it’s this same tyranny that smothered Lebanon’s democratic Cedar Revolution and inflicted on that long-suffering country the Medieval rule of Hezbollah.

So today the Middle East stands at a fateful crossroads. And like all of you, I pray that the peoples of the region choose the path less traveled, the path of liberty.

No one knows what this path consists of better than you. Nobody.

This path of liberty is not paved by elections alone. It’s paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.

Israel has always embraced this path in a Middle East that has long rejected it. In a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted, Israel stands out. It is different.

Speaking specifically of the genocidal threat posed by Iran, and the threat to the world – including Muslims – posed by militant Islam, he continued:

[Fifteen years ago] I stood here and I said that democracy must start to take root in the Arab world. Well, it’s begun to take root. And this beginning holds the promise of a brilliant future of peace and prosperity. Because I believe that a Middle East that is genuinely democratic will be a Middle East truly at peace.

But while we hope for the best and while we work for the best, we must also recognize that powerful forces oppose this future.

They oppose modernity. They oppose democracy. They oppose peace.

Foremost among these forces is Iran. The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people. It supports attacks against American troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It subjugates Lebanon and Gaza. It sponsors terror worldwide.

When I last stood here, I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out, the hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons.

Militant Islam threatens the world. It threatens Islam.

Now, I have no doubt, I’m absolutely convinced that it will ultimately be defeated. I believe it will eventually succumb to the forces of freedom and progress. It depends on cloistering young minds for a given amount of years, and the process of opening up information will ultimately defeat this movement.

But like other fanaticisms that were doomed to fail, militant Islam could exact an horrific price from all of us before its eventual demise. A nuclear armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. It would make the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger throughout the world.

I want you to understand what this means, because if we don’t stop it, it’s coming. …Now, the threat to my country cannot be overstated. Those who dismiss it are sticking their heads in the sand. Less than seven decades after 6 million Jews were murdered, Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust of the Jewish people, while calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state.

Leaders who spew such venom should be banned from every respectable forum on the planet.

The fact that Iran’s leaders haven’t yet been “banned from every respectable forum on the planet,” and that their statements and actions (both toward Israel, and directly against the U.S. in places like Iraq and Afghanistan) haven’t yet been taken seriously by far too many western leaders and citizens, demonstrates the lack of understanding currently possessed by the West regarding just what a threat the Islamic Republic poses. Further, the fact that a national leader can repeatedly declare the impending end of a sovereign state, and publicly wish for a world without Zionism, with no repercussions whatsoever demonstrates a fact which has been apparent for almost the entirety of Israel’s 63 year existence. That fact is simply this: of all those nations and peoples who repeat the mandatory post-Holocaust mantra of “never again,” only Israel both understands what it means, and means what it says. Even in the U.S., this rote phrase is not afforded the seriousness it deserves.

Netanyahu’s speech received several standing ovations (over three dozen), and in it the Prime Minister was very gracious toward the same president whom he’d had to school on recent Middle Eastern history only a few days before, thanking Obama for his “steadfast commitment to Israel’s security.” This phrasing is interesting, as it comes on the heels of Obama declaring an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines to be the required outcome of Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations — a declaration which, as might be expected, allowed some Palestinian leaders to use those lines as the effective starting point for negotiations. Mahmoud Zahar, a senior leader of the terrorist organization Hamas (which rules the Gaza Strip and which is set to be a participant in a Palestinian ruling coalition once again), said that a return to the 1949 borders, “while sacred,” were nowhere near enough of a concession “Why won’t we talk about the 1948 borders?” he asked. “Why won’t we discuss the partition plan which was internationally recognized?”

Of course, that “internationally recognized…partition plan” was the one that Israel accepted, but that its neighbors violently rejected. Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and Iraqis – backed also by the Saudis and Yemenis – went to war with the tiny upstart state, and the result of the seven-on-one battle was an Israel that was bigger in 1949 than it had been in 1948. (In 1967, again pushed to war by its much larger neighbors Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, Israel finished a David vs. Goliath battle still larger than it had been before the Six-Day War, having taken possession of the Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip.) The talk of borders is immaterial, of course, when one side in the conflict still refuses to acknowledge the right of the other to exist – a point which Netanyahu made more than once in his speech:

In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli prime ministers to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six-Day War.
They were simply unwilling to end the conflict.

And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And, worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy the Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.

My friends, this must come to an end.

President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people — and I told you it wasn’t easy for me. I stood before my people, and I said, “I will accept a Palestinian state.”

It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, “I will accept a Jewish state.”

Those six words will change history. They’ll make it clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end, that they’re not building a Palestinian state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it.

And those six words will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace.

With such a partner, the…Israeli people will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise; I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise.

As I’ve noted in these pages before, it’s not enough for Abbas, or any other Palestinian leader, to acknowledge to a western audience that Israel may have a right to exist; it has to be made to his own people, who have heard him and countless other leaders, public figures, television characters, authors, etc. repeatedly blame the Jewish state for all of their ills, and declare that it has no right to exist (while the West once again dons its blinders and ignores all such statements, instead trumpeting only those made in English to an easily-duped audience that only wants to hear what it wants to hear).  Further, as Netanyahu noted above, the establishment of a Palestinian state must be an end state, not simply another step toward eradicating Israel and shifting the Palestinian borders westward until they reach the Mediterranean.

More Netanyahu:

Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they’re necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. Because in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow.

And, my friends, when I say “Tomorrow,” I don’t mean some distant time in the future. I mean tomorrow.

Peace can only be achieved around the negotiating table. The Palestinian attempt to impose a settlement through the United Nations will not bring peace.

It should be forcefully opposed by all those who want to see this conflict end.

I appreciate the president’s clear position on this issue. Peace cannot be imposed. It must be negotiated.

But peace can only be negotiated with partners committed to peace, and Hamas is not a partner for peace.

Hamas — Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction and to terrorism.

They have a charter. That charter not only calls for the obliteration of Israel, it says kill the Jews everywhere you find them.

Hamas’ leader condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden and praised him as a holy warrior.

Now, again, I want to make this clear: Israel is prepared to sit down today and negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority.

I believe we can fashion a brilliant future for our children.

But Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of Al Qaida. That we will not do.

So I say to President Abbas, “Tear up your pact with Hamas, sit down and negotiate, make peace with the Jewish state. And if you do, I promise you this: Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as the new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to do so.”

As I’ve also noted before, Hamas is far from the only Arab or Palestinian organization calling for Israel’s destruction; it’s just one of the loudest, both with its voice and with it rockets, which are flung over Israel’s southern border toward civilian towns on a daily basis.  The impending reunification of Fatah and Hamas has no strings attached that would require the latter to moderate its stance on Israel’s right to exist, to stop its daily attacks on southern Israel’s civilian population, or to return Gilad Shalit, an Israeli who has been held hostage now for almost half a decade.

The Arab, Arabist, and anti-Israel community were abuzz on Twitter during Netanyahu’s speech, calling it – and Congress’s positive response – proof that the Israeli Prime Minister is not a true partner for peace, and that the U.S. is not the right nation to broker that peace. Rather than being a true statement of fact, this response demonstrates that Palestinians and their “supporters” who support their fight against Israel, just not enough to drop the blockades on the other borders and actually let them into Egypt, Syria, Jordan, or Lebanon (outside of refugee camps), are still not interested in any peace that includes a secure Israel standing on the Levantine coast.

Given the past and present actions of Israel’s neighbors, from their all-out attack on the Jewish state made the moment it declared its statehood to today, the benefit of the doubt cannot be freely bestowed upon any of them.  Until Israel’s right to exist is specifically and explicitly acknowledged by each of these states and peoples, there can be no hope for peace. Thus, such acknowledgment must be a starting point for negotiations between Israel and its neighbors – not a point to be negotiated once all are at the table.

Unfortunately, we’re clearly not there yet.

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