Conference Call Part 1: Professor Ken Stein

17Jun09

Hadassah participated in three conference calls on Monday that discussed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Sunday evening speech.

JCPA conference call with Professor Ken Stein (Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History, Political Science and Israeli Studies, Emory University and Director of the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel)

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech was given less than two weeks after Obama spoke in Cairo, and it was also in a University setting. Because of this, many expected PM Netanyahu’s speech to be a response to Obama’s speech, however, 90% of PM Netanyahu’s speech was devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By contrast, Obama only spent about 5% of his speech on this issue. Neither PM Netanyahu nor Obama gave a specific time-table or outlined a peace process. Both outlined a vision and laid out some specific markers for what they thought may be possible.

The speech did not have the resonance that past Israeli prime minister’s speeches have had, but, like past speeches, it was an effort to talk about how the Israelis and Palestinians could live side-by-side. PM Netanyahu tried to outline how he sees Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians unfold, and his expectations for the Palestinians. It was very much a pragmatic speech, with very little ideology.

At the beginning of the speech, PM Netanyahu mentioned the economic crisis and talked a little about Iran. However, the bulk of the speech was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The point he made over and over was that Israel is a Jewish state and will remain a Jewish state — he said this at least 7 times. PM Netanyahu stressed this point because of the Arab peace agreement on the table at the UN and specifically because of the issue of Palestinians returning to present-day Israel. PM Netanyahu wanted to be clear about how he sees his role in this process: he wants to reach a conclusion, but only in the context of keeping Israel as a Jewish state. The speech invoked a lot of history and talked about the place Israel plays in Jewish identity

On the issue of settlements, PM Netanyahu said Israel has no intention of building new settlements or expropriating additional land but that natural settlement growth will continue.

PM Netanyahu spoke very specifically about what he wants a Palestinian state to look like. He made clear that a demilitarized Palestinian state is the only possible outcome of a negotiated settlement. He said that a Palestinian state will not have an army or have control of its airspace, and that Israel is asking the U.S. and the international community to support them in this. This implies that there already has been some discussion between Israel and the U.S. about the U.S. monitoring a demilitarized Palestinian state.

There were several key things that PM Netanyahu left out of his speech. He said very little about Iran, he did not give any detail about how the negotiating process will evolve, he never referred to the Palestinians as a nation, only as a state, and he did not specifically call for peace with the Arab states, only for reconciliation.

In short, the speech was very realistic and did not stray from what he said at the AIPAC meeting in early May or at earlier press conferences.

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