According to Tony Blair, who is heading up the Quartet of Middle East mediators, the bid for an independent Palestinian state at the UN last week will mean little for the peace process until the parties return to the negotiation table. In an interview with the BBC he asserted that it “will mean nothing without negotiations”, but did confirm that whatever the case, it has “focused international opinion and attention on the issue”. He has a valid point. The re-focusing of attention is surely a good thing – it has pushed the two parties into the global limelight again, forcing them to speak for themselves. And after both Abbas and Netanyahu said what they had to say, I was struck (but not surprised) by the range of coverage in media across the world. On the BBC, Abbas was given home-page face-time while Netanyahu’s reply plea was not – doomed to be relegated to subsidiary web-pages. ( N. B. Surely it is time to finally show the Balen report to the public). The BBC’s emphasis, and lack thereof, was rather typical across the board – understandable in a world where hot topics are directly interwoven with the perceived underdog. Urban Times would like to balance things out by opening a debate around the Israeli PM’s speech which for good or evil deserved more attention than it received.
I am a Jew with a strong connection to Israel and I was powerfully affected while watching it. At the time it seemed deeply logical and forward-thinking; a rousing and earnest call with the goal of a true peace at its core. It felt like a beacon and tribute to western democracy, and a siren call about the threat of holocaust-deniers, of a nuclear Iran and of the specter of fundamentalist Islam. And at the same time it was an expatiation on the very real dilemma at hand over how to protect a tiny country only nine miles wide.
On the other hand, in his article Bibi’s Peace, Urban Times’s middle-east afficionado Liam Hoare described it as “perhaps the most trenchant and regressive proposal to have been articulated since the signing of the Oslo Accords.” Israeli News outlet Haaretz, in the damning article “Netanyahu’s speech of lies” by author Akiva Eldar acknowledged an excellent piece of rhetoric that was filled with half-truths and turned a blind eye to real Palestinian bids for peace; “[It] easily skipped over the Arab League Peace Initiative, yellowing on the shelf for nearly a decade”.
So not even Urban Times can agree on a stance! Which leaves me with the question. Do I believe Netanyahu’s message to a largely pro-Palestinian UN to be the admirable and reasoned logic of a cornered strategist; a leader standing firm in the face of external threats, or was I bamboozled by the expert rhetoric and honeyed words of an articulate but two-faced statesman? Or perhaps it was a little of both?
Urban Times wants to know what your reaction was. First, you have to watch the speech, if you haven’t already. Then, if you’re really interested, give the video below that look: a MIT graduate Netanyahu talking about the same issue in 1978, when he was 28 years old. Not a grey hair in sight. At that time he denies the right to a “second Palestinian state”, but also makes his case for peace. Over three decades later, the debate has changed it’s face but many of these core issues still apply.
Let’s get the debate flowing below. All views are welcome, but please try to keep comments constructive and solutions-driven. Keep the UT tagline in mind: Optimistic forward-thinking.