Friday, July 10, 2009

Netanyahu's Speech in Israeli Media: The Palestinian Reaction, Part 2

I know it's long overdue, but I wanted to continue writing about how the Israeli media reacted to Netanyahu's foreign policy speech in Tel Aviv last month.

One aspect of the speech that Israeli media seems to be struggling to understand is the Palestinian reaction to the speech. For example, immediately after the speech, Palestinian authority officials immediately condemned it for not showing any flexibility of the issue of Palestinian refugees and on the status of Jerusalem. Similarly, Syrian media and even the president of Egypt commented that the speech did not offer real chances of peace and that Israel's request to be recognized as a Jewish state was a non-starter.

Some in Israel see the Palestinian and wider Arab response to Netanyahu's speech as proof of rejectionism on the other side. In other words, it is evidence that even in the face of offers to negotiate immediately, the Palestinians simply reject Israel no matter what and will always reject offers of peace.

Others have been more inquisitive about the reasons for the harsh response. Some have suggested that the harsh Arab reaction will ultimately backfire as they will be seen as the ones shutting the door on Netanyahu's offer. Others have suggested that the harsh reaction is either a pre-planned, knee-jerk rejection or, is a reflection of Palestinian surprise that Netanyahu did not offer all they wanted in light of the Palestinian belief that the US is on their side and that they, not Israel is in a position of power.

It seems then that Israeli analysis of the Palestinian reaction to Netanyahu's speech falls into one of two categories: 1) Palestinians really don't want peace and so they instinctively reject everything Israel offers or 2) Palestinians don't understand why Israel is not doing what Palestinians feel the US has told it to do.

There's a third option though, not really examined in the media, and that is that Palestinians are unhappy that Netanyahu will not freeze settlements and that he insists on Israel being recognized as a Jewish state. The settlement issue is long standing and really should not come as a surprise to anyone. It's a contentious issue that remains a very sore point, but can ultimately be resolved. The only really new thing Netanyahu said in his speech was that he wants Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state. The only such state in the world. As highlighted by the Egyptian president's comments, many Palestinians see this as some sort of a humiliation, that it is some sort of a shame that they would have to recognize that their neighbour is a Jewish state.

The Palestinian response frankly seems to be too quick to be taken too seriously. Netanyahu gave a an important foreign policy speech. It seems almost irresponsible for officials, representatives of any government, to come out and within minutes, after only hearing the speech that first time, without any further analysis or revision, pronounce their opinions. In fact, such a reaction is the definition of a knee-jerk reaction. It is the voicing of the first thing that comes to mind without further study. True, Palestinians were likely looking for key things, hoping for key commitments that they may not have heard, but speeches such as these require some thought and some reading between the lines to be properly understood.

It's one thing for someone writing on a blog, or a journalist to respond to a speech right away, it's quite another for a government official to respond, within seconds, to a policy speech by an adversary. One would hope that in future, cooler heads and more careful analysis will prevail.


Anonymous said...

The problem with the speech is the following:

Breakthrough: "Willing to sit and negotiate without preconditions"

Backtrack: The rest of the speech.

Frankly, I am not sure it's the same speech writer that wrote the speech, but a bunch of them sitting over lunch. What are these if not Pre-Conditions: (1) jewish state, (2) demilitarized state (3) no control over air space, etc.

As for the rejection of the "Jewish State", why jump to the conclusion that Palestinians reject the precondition out of pride and shame? How do you know? Would you live in a self styled "Christian Nation".

Finally, echoing a previous comment, what happens in 30 to 40 years? A constitutional amendment?

Insisting on a Jewish State now, when there is a large Arab Muslim minority in the country will just take away the Jewish argument in 30 or 40 years that the country should be labeled as a Muslim state.

However, on a more immediate concern, Arab states around Israel are fighting movements that wish to label the states as Muslim states. Israel doing the same thing is just a bad example. Bad idea. and frankly, what's the point? what advantage does it provide? it's not like if Israel gets recognized officially as a Jewish state that Palestinian mothers will suddenly relent and shut the tap!

A friend.

Yours truly.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I don't think the speech was a backtrack at all. I think much of it was pretty standard fare and the idea of sitting without preconditions and working towards peace is a step forward.

I'm almost sure the speech was written by several in Netanyahu's circle of advisors and was developed over quite some time. The issues that you mention though, are not pre-conditions, they're negotiating positions. There's a difference between saying "we won't speak to you before..." and saying "we will speak you and we are hoping to have you agree to A, B and C."

I also think you've conflated some issues. The people who are being asked to recognize Israel as a Jewish state are not its citizens but others, the Palestinians. They are being asked to acknowledge the fact That Israel is the only Jewish state in the world and that its population is about 75% Jewish.

Moreover, Saying Jewish state as Netanyahu does is not the same as saying Christian state; it's more akin to saying "French state" or "German State." It's a reflection not of religion, but of nationality or, dare I say ethnicity.

As for Israel's neighbours, I would refer to the point above. These states are already recognized as Arab states, what many people in these states are arguing for, or striving towards is the establishment of a Muslim theocracy. This is quite different than what Netanyahu has in mind.

Anonymous said...

Jewish is a nationality?!? I never saw it that way. The nationality is based on religion? really? So.... an Arab Muslim or Christian citizen of Israel can never say he's of Israeli nationality? Or must he convert first?

Slippery slope.

A (confused) friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Sorry about the delayed reply.

The idea that Jewish is a nationality is one of the cornerstones of Zionism. It argues that Jews are not a nationality based on a religion, but rather a nation of people for whom Judaism is a religion.

I think, from your comment you're confusing a few issues. Jewish is a religion, just as Christianity is. The Jewish people--in the past referred to as the Hebrews, or the Israelites--are a nation, no different than let’s say, the Japanese or the Scots.

Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, just as France is a nation state for the French, or the Gauls. Can there be minorities in such a state, of course. Can Arab Muslims or Christians in Israel be Israeli? Of course. They serve in the army of their own free will (conscription for Jews only,) vote, serve in the Knesset, they are citizens and Israeli.

The Jewish people are a nation because they have descended from the tribes that built a kingdom in the Levant thousands of years ago. The religion of this tribe (called the Hebrews or the Israelites,) was Judaism.

So, just as a Canadian of Indian origin, who does not hold an Indian passport and may never have been to India may claim that they are Canadian of Indian descent, a Jewish person may do the same thing, and say that they too are a Canadian of Jewish decent, but not Israeli, unless they have Israeli citizenship.

I don't know if that clears anything up or not.