Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered his speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday evening, and the verdicts are varied. You can read the full transcript here.
He covered all the main points that we Israelis would wish him to make: he compared Hamas to ISIS, he stressed that the IDF is the most moral army in the world, and even brought out a photo of Hamas rocket launchers surrounded by children to illustrate his point; he condemned the UN Human Rights Council for their obsessive focus on Israel and its non-existent crimes when so many real war crimes were being committed by Islamic extremists and others around the world.
Watch the video and enjoy Netanyahu’s eloquent oratory which received loud applause in several places:
The speech was “vintage Netanyahu” according to the Jerusalem Post:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stood on the world’s grandest stage on Monday and delivered three key messages: Israel’s fight is your fight, the time has come to retire the 20-year-old template of direct negotiations with the Palestinians as the path to peace, and that his main historic role is to defend the Jewish state.
The speech was vintage Netanyahu. It had passion, it had soaring rhetorical flourishes, it had sarcasm. It even had a contemporary reference to retiring New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter.
And, finally, it had an appraisal of how Netanyahu views his role as a leader.
Toward the end of the speech, Netanyahu said that some in the world do not take Israel’s security concerns seriously.
“But I do, and I always will,” he said. “Because as prime minister of Israel I am entrusted with the awesome responsibility of ensuring the future of the Jewish people and the future of the Jewish state. And no matter what pressure is brought to bear, I will never waiver in fulfilling that responsibility.”
That theme has been woven more than anything else through all of Netanyahu’s major addresses. Some leaders, like Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert, saw their ultimate role as being a peacemaker, and emphasized that in their keynote addresses.
Not Netanyahu. He always places the focus first and foremost on security. He sees his historic role as leader of Israel not necessarily as being the one who will bring peace, but rather the one who will ensure the country’s security, even if it means taking positions unpopular around the world to do so. One such position may be his signal Monday that he now prefers partnership with the Arab world as a way to reach some kind of accommodation with the Palestinians, rather than negotiations and peace with the Palestinians as the ticket to rapprochement with the Arab world.
He did that in his addresses to the UN in 2012 and 2013, focusing on Iran, and he did it again Monday.
This time the storm had two names: Iran and militant Islamic radicalism.
Knowing full well the world in which he lives, Netanyahu tried to draw parallels between Islamic State, which has the world up in arms, with the Islamic state of Iran, which he fears the world is willing to give a pass. Though there might be differences in their theological approach, he stressed, the aim is the same: world domination.
Netanyahu sees it as his role to shout from the mountain tops about the incoming storms. And he artfully shouted about them Monday at the UN. And if the world does not heed his warnings, he had another message as well – one that also always props up in his keynote addresses: Israel will always defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
I would not say that Netanyahu’s speech was without good points. They were there, and they make Israel’s case. But they are points we’ve heard from him before:
But then… then he began to talk about “historic opportunity.” We’ve heard this before as well: the new recognition of leading Arab states that they have concerns in common with Israel. This has the potential for partnership. These Arab states may help facilitate an Israel-Palestinian peace.
An Israeli-Palestinian peace? The old template for peace must be updated to allow for Arab participation.
He is willing to make an historic compromise for peace. Some territorial concession would be necessary. But what is important are “rock solid security arrangements.” Withdrawal from Lebanon and from Gaza led to terrorist entities in these places. We cannot allow ISIS into Judea and Samaria.
In any peace agreement, Israel has to be able to defend itself by itself.
This, I would presume, is Netanyahu’s way of countering Abbas’s proposal regarding “Palestine” to the 1967 line. Such a formulation would not provide the strategic depth that is necessary for Israeli self-defense. But he does not actually say this.
For me, this is insufficient, a cop-out.
What I had hoped to hear was a crystal clear statement that a Fatah that is joined with Hamas cannot be considered a partner for peace. That there can be no talk of negotiations, as fervently as Israel hopes for peace, until Fatah’s leaders renounce violence. As it is, just days ago, Abbas, right on the UN dais, defended Fatah’s right to violent resistance. Before there can be peace, Fatah must demonstrate a genuine desire for it. And this is something we’ve yet to see.
Did Netanyahu – always eager to please – feel the need to mention a willingness to compromise for peace because Abbas had accused Israel of undermining peace? Truly do I hope that is not the case.
Me too, Ms. Kushner, and so many other Israelis as well.
The speech was not particularly well received by the US either. I guess it would have been too much to expect the US, officially our best and closest ally, to agree with Netanyahu’s comparison of Hamas and ISIS, or to concede the danger of a nuclear Iran:
The US State Department said Monday in a press conference that it disagrees with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s assertion during his UN speech on Monday that “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.”
“Obviously, we’ve designated both as terrorist organizations, but ISIL poses a different threat to Western interests and to the United States,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “And that’s just a fact.”
Later on in the speech, Netanyahu said that Iran is still a great threat to Israel’s existence. He also warned that Iran is not actually willing to give up nuclear weapons but rather just wants to get rid of the sanctions against them.
In response, Psaki said that the US would like Iran to reintegrate into the international community by showing that their nuclear program is peaceful.
“I can assure anyone that an agreement reached would not be based on a charm offensive or how that impacts us, but on the facts and the details,” she said. “And we’re not going to agree to a comprehensive agreement that doesn’t meet our standards and meet our threshold.”
My blood runs cold considering the utter stupidity of Psaki and the Obama Administration if they think that Iran can demonstrate that their nuclear program is peaceful when it is so blindingly obvious that their aims are anything but.
In fact Obama himself, in his own speech at the UNGA last Wednesday, snidely rebuked the Israelis for being too ready to abandon peace:
“The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace,” he said. “That’s something worthy of reflection within Israel. Because let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable.”
What a chutzpah! And how patronisingly offensive to chide the Israelis that they need to “reflect” on abandoning peace! Especially after all that we have given up, all the precious lives lost, the traumatised civilians, the ruined economy of the south, and all the wars we have fought – including just one month ago – because we gave up precious land for that very peace which has proven so elusive.
If the man can be so wrong on the Israel-Palestinian issue, and can misread Israeli society so badly, how can he be trusted on anything as major as confronting ISIS or a nuclear Iran?
Arlene Kushner in her article above links to a withering critique of Obama’s speech by Ben Shapiro whose slightly immoderate language is rather amusing and spot-on.
You can also read here how Obama has changed his stance in the space of one year, with the implication that he got it all so wrong in 2013. It will be very interesting, if not terrifying, to read how much he changes again in 2015.