A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 15, 2009

Netanyahu's Speech

I suppose I need to say something about Netanyahu's much-anticipated speech over the weekend. The most immediate thing I notice is that while the speech seems to have been well-received by Israelis, including many who oppose Netanyahu politically but welcome his open acceptance of a two-state solution, it has been universally criticized by Arab spokesmen, both for the Palestinian Authority and also Arab countries active in the peace process, including Husni Mubarak of Egypt.

I think it's in part one of those glass-half-full, glass-half-empty things: Israelis, at least those on the dovish side, welcome Netanyahu's accepting a two state solution for the first time; Arabs focused instead on the preconditions he raised: demilitarization of the Palestinian state and Palestinian recognition, not only of Israel, but of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course Israelis have insisted on both before, so it's not really new: but by making these points so prominent, he seems to have undercut (from the Arab point of view) his openness to a Palestinian state.

The biggest point to be made, I think, is that the peace process was not particularly advanced by the speech; but then, the election of Netanyahu did not augur well for any early breakthroughs. We are farther from a solution than we have been in the past, but that isn't really new. The speech may have helped soften the growing confrontation with Washington by nominally accepting a two state solution, but the conditions mean that however Washington receives it, it was not seen as progress by the Palestinians.

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