Susan Hattis Rolef
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
September 25, 2011 - 12:00am

Immediately after Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) ended his long and tedious speech at the UN General Assembly last Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman described it in a Channel 10 interview as “extremely harsh incitement.”

To say the least, Lieberman’s words were an exaggeration. Abbas’ speech was certainly not pleasant to Israeli ears, and it included numerous factual inaccuracies. However, a speech that contained paragraphs such as: “I am here to say on behalf of the Palestinian people and the Palestine Liberation Organization: We extend our hands to the Israeli government and the Israeli people for peacemaking. I say to them: Let us urgently build together a future for our children where they can enjoy freedom, security and prosperity. Let us build the bridges of dialogue instead of checkpoints and walls of separation, and build cooperative relations based on parity and equity between two neighboring states – Palestine and Israel – instead of policies of occupation, settlement, war and eliminating the other,” can hardly be termed incitement.

Of course, one could argue that these are just empty words meant to impress a captive international audience. But the same could be said about Netanyahu’s professed acceptance of the two state solution. Netanyahu devoted a good part of his own UN speech to listing the dangers inherent in the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which leads one to believe that if he really believes in a two-state solution, it is only on condition that the Palestinian state is established on another planet.

One of the examples Lieberman gave of “incitement” was Abbas’ accusation that the IDF sets dogs on Palestinians. In fact what Abbas had actually said was “it is time that our sons should live normal lives... that farmers should tend to their fields without fear of the occupation stealing the water and plundering the lands.. without being exposed to the settlers and their dogs.”

Regretfully, the last sentence is not totally imaginary. We recently saw on television some of the more extreme settlers setting vicious dogs on Palestinian farmers. Furthermore, Abbas’ comments about water and land theft are also not a figment of the imagination, though the reality is undoubtedly more complex than the PA chairman would have us believe.

Israel is certainly within its right to demand viable security arrangements, and that the Palestinians recognize the country as the State of the Jewish People (incidentally, it would be nice if all Israelis also recognized Israel as the State of the Jewish People rather than as a Jewish State, which many interpret as meaning “an Halachic State”). That would ensure that in future, after a Palestinian state is established, it will not act to turn Israel into a bi-national state.

HOWEVER, EVEN Lieberman must admit that we are a long way from the days when the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular, called for the destruction of the State of Israel, and from the “three noes” of the Arab Summit Conference in Khartoum following the Six Day War (no negotiations with Israel, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel). Had Abbas delivered his speech at Khartoum, he would have been assassinated on the spot.

There is no question that while Abbas’ speech was tedious and uninspiring, in rhetorical terms Netanyahu’s speech was brilliant. If Netanyahu’s actual policy were as brilliant as his rhetoric, we really would be blessed. Unfortunately, in terms of its content, Amnon Rabinowitch – the caustic commentator of Channel Two – was absolutely right when he commented that this was a “Golda Meir” speech, full of self-righteousness and absolutely no message for the future.

Though no one can argue with Netanyahu’s suggestion that the UN has been less than fair with Israel most of the time (though one shouldn’t forget that it was the UN that voted in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel), and that Israel confronts some horrendous dangers, Netanyahu said nothing about what can be done to address this situation. In fact, the only conclusion to draw from Netanyahu’s speech is that Israel is doomed. Besides accusing everyone else of responsibility for the situation, he has no idea what to do about it. Netanyahu’s speech portrayed modern-day Israel as if it were a Masada scenario, without proposing a different ending. Let us not forget that suicide was not the only option that the Jews had in face of the Masada siege, though none of the alternatives would have sounded as heroic.

In fact, it is time for Netanyahu to pay heed to the saying “don’t be right – be wise.” Brilliant rhetoric is not a substitute for wisdom.

The writer is a member of the Labor Party, and is currently engaged in research and lecturing on the Knesset.


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