The man who has nothing to say but No


May 25, 2011
Sarah Benton

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The BiBi No Speech
Dima Khatib
24 May 2011

Now that was one speech I shall never forget.

I plan to store it in my memory in the same box as this season’s Arab leaders’ speeches, except that it was not a dictator’s pre-overthrow speech, it was rather a keep-the-peace-process-dead speech !

I am not sure what Netanyahu’s “painful compromises” for peace are. But his address was not “painful” at all to him. It might have been painful to anyone naive enough to hope some progress could be made in the so-called peace process with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm of the Israeli cabinet.

No to a shared Jerusalem
No to the return of Palestinian refugees
No to pre-1967 borders for a future Palestinian State
No to Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah
No to any military in a future Palestinian State
No to Palestinians recognising anything less than a Jewish State of Israel
No to the end of occupation (because Mr. Netanyahu says it does not exist)

No No No No

Did I miss any other No in his speech?

It is not “painful” to say so many No’s in a speech described by media as carrying conditions for a “peace settlement” whereby Israel would be “generous” with the size of a future Palestinian State.

Right !

Each one of those No’s is a bullet fired at the already very dead peace process. Recent attempts to get the body resuscitated seem to just end in vain. Twenty years wasted in negotiations that only lead to a worse situation for the Palestinians.

I wonder why Mr. Netanyahu did not simply say:
No to a Palestinian State
No to the Palestinian people

He was very vocal in telling Mahmoud Abbas what to do : tear up the pact with Hamas and come back to the negotiating table.

Mr. Netanyahu, and he is not the only one in Israel, seems to think that Hamas is some alien entity that can simply be excluded from the Palestinian canvas. Regardless of what one thinks of Hamas, it is a reality, it is part of the Palestinian political arena and it was elected by the people of Palestine, at least the ones inside Gaza and the West Bank. Therefore Hamas represents many Palestinians whom Mr. Netanyahu seems to think he can just simply cut out of the picture.

An Israeli on Twitter keeps telling me that Israelis would be delighted to make peace with someone like me, as opposed to Hamas or other Palestinian factions. But the “other” Palestinians are just as Palestinian as I am, like them or dislike them. And if I were ever to find myself working on peace, I would make sure they are all represented.

If Israeli leaders one day really want peace, they should not think they can choose what Palestinians they like and what Palestinians they dislike, what Palestinians they wish to make peace with and what Palestinians they wish to leave out of peace.

Palestinians are left with no choice but to go for their unilateral bid to get a UN recognition for a Palestinian State in September. They can obtain it at the General Assembly even if the US stalls it, which Barak Obama has already warned he would do. It would give the Palestinians access to the International Criminal Court for example to try and put some Israeli war criminals on trial. It would also mark the 1967 borders as internationally recognised borders.

But I am not sure where all of that leads if the de-facto situation on the ground is occupation, more settlements, new discriminatory laws inside Israel, intolerant rhetoric, continuing siege of Gaza, checkpoints, thousands of Palestinian prisoners, control over everything within the Palestinian “zero” Authority territories, Apartheid wall, etc. All backed by the most powerful nation on earth: the United States of America, whose congressmen, congresswomen and senators clapped and cheered through more than 20 standing ovations during Mr. Netanyahu’s speech.

In his own Knesset (Israeli parliament), Mr. Netanyahu would not get any such cheering and support. Nor would Mr. Obama with his country’s own Congress and Senate.

Mr. Netanyahu might have impressed American legislators with his eloquent American English, his charm playing US politics and his intense love for America. But he surely did not impress any Arab or Palestinian.. or even others in the rest of the world.

He came across as one more leader who is behind, unable to understand and/or accept that the Arab Spring has changed everything. His conditions for his version of peace sounded out-dated for the new era of Arab Awakening, where his usual collaborators in the region are not in control of their people any more. The people are now capable of anything. The Geo-politics are changing as regimes change. The gap between what Arabs want and the decisions their leaders make is what helped Israel maintain the status quo of occupation and aggression all these decades. When that gap is gone, the people will want one thing : a free Palestine including at least part of Jerusalem, and not an “undivided Jerusalem”, “forever capital of Israel”, as Mr. Netanyahu wishes. He claimed Israel is the best party to guarantee religious freedom. Alas Israel has a very bad record when it comes to allowing people to pray in one of the world’s most sacred places.

Netanyahu also doesn’t seem to realize that although his allies still control the U.S. Congress, public opinion in the United States — including Jewish public opinion — on the Middle East has shifted significantly in the last few years, and his views are considered extremist by more people in the world than he thinks.

To many in the Arab World, the fawning applause and obsequious cheering in the U.S. Congress was very similar to a typical Arab parliament’s behaviour in the presence of their dictator. Whatever he says, they just clap, smile and agree. Many would even go as far as comparing it to Bashar Al Assad’s latest address to parliament when Syrian MP’s would even recite poetry to Assad to express their love and allegiance.

Just like an Arab dictator, Mr. Netanyahu does not seem to get it. What he now suddenly praises as the “promise of a new dawn” when referring to Arab revolutions — which he at first dismissed by warning of Islamist take-overs — that “new dawn” is bound to reach Palestinians too. It is now only a matter of time before Arabs have a real say in their regional politics, not through U.S. client states. Only when that happens can real negotiations take place and real peace be reached.

Two States, one State, all will be possible.

Until then, Mr. Netanyahu can continue playing the peace clown for his American audience.

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