Couching his speech in what he claims is the ‘truth’ as the representative of the ‘only true democracy’ in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a defensive, hostile and unoriginal speech at UN on Friday – my initial reactions
Bibi opened and closed his speech at the UN cordially on Friday afternoon, saying the word “peace” many times and making a formal invitiation to Abbas to negotiate in NY. However, everything in between was saturated in hostility that did nothing to gain Israel favor with the whole world watching this international extravaganza.
After extending his hand in peace to Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, (probably the most effective line in the whole speech, since these are all countries in which Israel has recently lost practically all its diplomatic presence), Bibi immediately went on to defend Israel against its “villainous” image in the UN.
He attacked the UN for being a “theater of absurd” and a “place of darkness” for Israel, pointing to the 27 General Assembly condemnations of Israel and specifically enumerating the 1975 UN resolution that Zionism is racism. He said that Israel has been “singled out for condemnation more often than all countries at the UN combined.” No matter how much one may disagree with or dislike the UN’s attitude towards Israel, not the wisest move for him to make when his country is currently internationally reviled and isolated.
Proclaiming that he came to the UN to “speak truth,” Netanyahu took on the role of a Huntington-enthused political philosopher and went on to speak of the “malignancy” of our time, that which he claims has replaced the conflict between east and west: militant Islam.
As was expected, he spoke at length about “militant Islam” and said that the greatest danger facing our world is that Iran will arm itself with nuclear weapons – “The Arab spring could become Iranian winter,” he said, conveniently linking a grassroots, revolutionary phenomenon in the Arab world with the repressive and vindictive policies of Ahmadinejad.
The rest of Bibi’s speech was dedicated to justifying the settlement project. He tried to debunk the theory that territorial compromises can ever be effective by declaring that whenever Israel has pulled out it has only been met with more violence, and by using the same old line that Dennis Ross wrote an entire book about: Israel offered them everything in 2000 and they rejected it. Then the withdrawal from Lebanon and then the withdrawal from Gaza, and look what Israel got – none of this could “calm the Islamic storm, it only brought it closer.” You must have a lot of nerve to say “we don’t the West Bank to be another Gaza” after the Palestinian death toll from “Operation Cast Lead.”
He then referenced the well-known David and Goliath metaphor, where Israel is the tiny David, spanning only the distance from Battery Park to Columbia University in NYC, which can be flown across in a jet plane in only 3 minutes. Nevermind that today a Palestinian was shot and killed by this David. In short, he used a bunch of conventional, unconvincing arguments that Israeli leaders have used over and over again and that have gotten us nowhere.
While I assume Netanyahu attempted to sound strong, confident and with moral conviction, the result was a hostile and angry tone throughout the speech that seemed to be preaching to the unfortunate choir at home who actually feel Netanyahu represents them and Israel’s best interests.
And although he repeatedly declared that he “extends his hand in peace” to the Palestinian people, nothing in the content or tone of his rhetoric gave the believable feeling that he could ever actually see Israelis getting along with or respecting Palestinians. It was nothing like Abbas’s speech, which, full of determination, resolve as well as criticism of the occupation, also had a deep sense of hope and compassion to it. Abbas made a point to mention the Israeli activists who actively support Palestinian unarmed resistance to the occupation in the West Bank, thereby recognizing places in which Israelis and Palestinians are already determining positive and peaceful facts on the ground together.
Bibi, on the other hand, had an attitude of self-righteousness and stubbornness that could not seem to utter a single word of humility for the “other.” Framing his speech in the concept of “truth” only confirms how clearly he is incapable of recognizing the humanity of different narratives, or the fact that there is always more than one truth, certainly in politics, and certainly in political conflicts where he is the occupying power.