Israeli press sees Pyrrhic victory in Netanyahu's Congressional speech

AFP and Saleh Naami, Wednesday 25 May 2011

Benjamin Netanyahu put on an impressive show for the US Congress but wasted his last chance to revive peace talks in order to head off the diplomatic tsunami facing Israel in September

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: AP)

Benjamin Netanyahu put on an impressive show for the US Congress but wasted his last chance to revive peace talks in order to head off the diplomatic tsunami facing Israel in September, the Israeli press said on Wednesday.

His 45-minute speech may have won him rapturous applause and more than 20 standing ovations in Congress, but media pundits back home agreed it contained no new initiative to head off the looming spectre of September, when the Palestinians are to approach the UN for recognition of their state.

"A wasted opportunity" was the headline of the editorial in the Haaretz newspaper, which said the Israeli prime minister had lost an "outstanding opportunity to present a vision of a just and sustainable peace."

"Netanyahu wasted the generous credit he got from his American hosts in order to cast accusations at the Palestinians and impose endless obstacles in connection with the core issues," it said, accusing him of "leading Israel and the Palestinians into a new round of violence, along with Israel's isolation."

"We are heading straight for the wall," Haaretz correspondent Ari Shavit told army radio.

"He made peace with Congress, but he lost the world," he said, describing the situation facing Israel as comparable to the situation just before the war of 1973, a conflict which was considered a disaster for the Jewish state.

"Negotiations that had a slim chance of being renewed before the visit... now have no chance at all," wrote Nahum Barnea in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

And the Palestinians are now "more determined than in the past to reach a resolution in the UN General Assembly on a state within the 1967 borders, which is a resolution that has quite dangerous consequences for Israel."

"After the applause in Congress, we will be faced with a terrible explosion," agreed Channel 2's political analyst Emmanuel Rosen, referring to the UN bid, which many believe could have far-reaching political implications for the Jewish state.

Writing in the right-wing Jerusalem Post, Palestinian-American commentator Ray Hanania described the speech as "the most stunning example of a Middle East leader intentionally missing an opportunity to bring about a peace accord."

"Netanyahu’s speech was the clearest declaration that the future of peace does not lie in negotiations," Hanania wrote, saying there was "no peace plan, only a plan for continued conflict."

"The only option the Palestinians have to achieve statehood is by taking their case to the United Nations in September, come what may."

Maariv's political commentator Ben Caspit said it was clear from Netanyahu's speech that he was happy to maintain the status quo -- to win the plaudits in Congress and ensure himself a warm welcome back home with his right-wing coalition rather than to take difficult steps to advance peace.

"Netanyahu knows very well that the conditions that he set yesterday for a peace process are a complete non-starter, that there is no Palestinian in the world who will accept them... that there is not a single person in Europe who will take them seriously, and that they will only make (US President) Barack Obama angry," Caspit said.

Last week, the US president made a major policy speech in which he said the 1967 borders should be the basis for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but his proposal was very publicly shot down by Netanyahu who said such lines were "indefensible."

"Netanyahu donned a silk glove and with the same hand, infused a death shot into the convulsing peace process," he wrote, describing the speech as "a victory" for the Israeli leader.

"Those who are scared of peace, yesterday got their wish. Those scared of war, will be a lot more scared today," Caspit wrote.

As for September? "We will wait and see," he wrote.

Sima Kadmon, writing in the rival daily Yediot Aharonot agreed that Netanyahu would return home victorious. "The prime minister's standing was strengthened greatly this week and... Netanyahu is returning to a solid coalition that will ensure his hold on power for many months," she wrote.

"But after all this, one question remains: Where do we go from here?"


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