Adam Gonn
May 26, 2011 - 12:00am

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday spoke before the United States Congress, it was his third major policy speech in less than two weeks. Netanyahu was to have presented a plan to reinvigorate the direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The result, however, according to some analysts, was something very different.

Before leaving for the United States, the Israeli premier addressed the Israeli Knesset parliament, where he presented his principles for future peace negotiations with the Palestinians, namely recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland, that any future Palestinian state be demilitarized, and include a long-term Israeli military presence along the Jordan Valley.

U.S. President Barack Obama also gave a major Middle East policy speech in the past two weeks, in which he said the 1967 lines between Israel and its Arab neighbors should be the basis for the border of a future Palestinian state.

When the two leaders met the following day, Friday, Netanyahu rejected the 1967 lines notion in language that sparked speculation of a crisis between the two leaders.

Over the weekend, Obama and Netanyahu separately addressed the annual conference of the pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), held in Washington. In his address, Obama clarified some of his points from the previous speech.

Analysts said Netanyahu may have delivered his speech with grace, but the content wasn't new and it would do little to kindle any hope of renewing peace talks. Netanyahu's tense relationship with Obama would most likely to continue, they predicted.


The congressional speech was beforehand referred to as "Bar- Ilan 2," after an address Netanyahu gave at the Bar-Ilan University in 2009, during which he, for the first time, publicly backed a two-state solution.

In a two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel. However, the Palestinians demand eastern Jerusalem as the capital for their future country.

Before Netanyahu left for the United States, several Israeli analysts said that it's more important that the prime minister manage to convince the Americans of his principles, than the Palestinians. However, following the disagreement on the 1967 lines, Netanyahu might have work to do on both fronts.

During his speech in Congress, Netanyahu said, "I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historical peace," but rejected any division of Jerusalem. "Israel will be generous on the size of a Palestinian state, but will be very firm on where we put the border with it," Netanyahu said.

However, Bibi, as he is known in Israel, didn't back down from his rejection of the "indefensible borders". He said Israel would be left with in case of a return to the 1967 lines.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in response to the speech that "there was nothing new in the speech, except for more obstacles for the peace process."

Abu Rudeina added that "for we Palestinians, peace is the establishment of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders whose capital is East Jerusalem."


Gabriel Sheffer, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Xinhua that despite some positive reactions from the U.S. administration which said Netanyahu's speech was reasonable, the relations are still very tense. Primarily due to some basic disagreements between Obama's and Netanyahu's positions.

While Netanyahu and his supporters claimed that the positive response that he received in congress was a sign of support for his ideas. Sheffer said that this kind of reception always happens when foreign presidents and prime ministers come and speak in congress.

The same applied to former Israeli Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin when they spoke in congress, "this doesn't make it an exceptional speech," Sheffer said.

"Basically speaking, this is the very basic ideology of Netanyahu," Sheffer said of the address.

He said that it would be very difficult for Obama to influence Netanyahu, partly due to considerations of his coalition government, as well as the upcoming elections in Israel.


Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force for Palestine, said that Netanyahu's speech in congress wasn't only aimed to secure his position as the uncontested leader of the Israeli center-right, but "he also sought to offset warm relations with congress against his tense relations with the White House."

Ibish said that Netanyahu would be more comfortable with a Republican in the White House, than the Democrat Obama.

"There was no substantial change between the positions Netanyahu took in congress and those he took at the Knesset on May 16," Ibish said. His position tallies with that of Israeli analyst Tamir Sheafer, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who spoke to Xinhua after the first Knesset speech.

"I don't see any signs that Netanyahu is preparing a groundbreaking peace proposal," Sheafer said then.

Ibish concurred, saying that Netanyahu's speech offered nothing new or anything particularly constructive, and it was intended as a diplomatic posture.

He added it was primarily a political speech, aimed most importantly at his own domestic Israeli constituency and, secondarily, at trying to influence the U.S. election in 2012 in favor of the Republicans.

Ibish and Sheffer both predicted that Israeli-U.S. relations would continue to be strained, due to the difference of opinion on what any future Palestinian state would look like.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017