Binyamin Netanyahu’s mirage

Akiva Eldar
15 June 2009

The Israeli prime minister's speech at Bar-Ilan University on 14 June 2009 returned the middle east to the days of George W Bush's "axis of evil". Binyamin Netanyahu delivered a patriarchal, colonialist address in the best neoconservative tradition: the Arabs are the bad guys, or at best ungrateful terrorists; the Jews are the good guys, rational people who need to raise and care for their children. In the West Bank settlement of Itamar, they're even building a nursery-school.

Akiva Eldar is an award-winning Israeli journalist with the daily newspaper Ha'aretz

Also by Akiva Eldar in openDemocracy:

"The United States and Israel: moment of truth" (18 May 2009)

No empathy for the refugees from Jaffa who lost their entire world; not a word for the Muslim connection to Jerusalem; not a fragment of a quote from the Qur'an, nor a line of Arabic poetry.

Netanyahu's provincial remarks were not intended to penetrate the hearts of the hundreds of millions of al-Jazeera viewers in the Muslim world. Instead, he sought to appease Tzipi Hotovely, the settler Likud member of the Knesset, and make it possible to live peaceably with the settler foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people didn't even leave him an opening for forging reconciliation with the Arab citizens in the country.

The prime minister's declaration that Jerusalem will remain the "undivided capital" of Israel - only Israel - slammed the door before the entire Muslim world. His Hebron, moreover, is solely the city of the Jewish patriarchs; the Arabs have no such rights at all. The Palestinians can have a state, but only if those foreign invaders show us they know how to eat with a fork and knife. Actually, without a knife.

The demilitarisation of the Palestinian state was mentioned in the Clinton guidelines (December 2000), the Taba understandings (January 2001) and the Geneva accord (December 2003), as was the "right of return" (to Palestine, not Israel). The difference between these documents and the Bar-Ilan address is not only that the former recognised the Palestinians' full rights to the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The real difference lies in the tone - in the degrading and disrespectful nature of Netanyahu's remarks. That's not how one brings down a wall of enmity between two nations, that's not how trust is built.

It's hard to believe that a single Palestinian leader will be found who will buy the defective merchandise Netanyahu presented at Bar-Ilan.


Among openDemocracy's recent articles on Israel-Palestine and middle-east diplomacy:

Khaled Hroub, "The ‘Arab system' after Gaza" (27 January 2009)

Lucy Nusseibeh, "The four lessons of Gaza" (4 February 2009)

Prince Hassan, "Palestine's right: past as prologue" (11 February 2009)

Thomas O'Dwyer, "Israel: how things fell apart" (13 February 2009)

Colin Shindler, "Israel's rightward shift: a history of the present" (13 February 2009)

Gershon Baskin, "The state of Israel: key to peace" (19 May 2009)

Gideon Levy, "Barack Obama: Israel's true friend" (25 May 2009)

Robert G Rabil, "Barack Obama's middle east: pragmatism and hope" (1 June 2009)

Nader Hashemi, "What Obama must say (and do) in Egypt" (3 June 2009)

Godfrey Hodgson, "The Cairo speech: letter to America" (8 June 2009)

Karim Kasim & Zaid Al-Ali, "The Cairo speech: Arab Muslim voices" (8 June 2009)

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