by MJ Rosenberg, Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network.
If anyone had any doubt about whether the Palestinians would declare a state in September, they can't have them now.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to
Congress that essentially was a series of insults to Palestinians and
every insult was met by applause and standing ovations.
In fact, Netanyahu's appearance itself was an insult.
In the entire history of the United States, only four foreign leaders have addressed joint sessions of Congress more than once.
Minister Winston Churchill, America's great ally, addressed Congress
three times during World War II. President Nelson Mandela was honored
for destroying apartheid and freeing South Africa. Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin was recognised for opening negotiations with the
And now Netanyahu. For what?
entire term in office he has done nothing but reject every request by
the United States that he take some action (like freezing settlements)
to promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In the history of Israel,
there has been no prime minister as hardline on Palestinian rights and
as indifferent to the wishes of the United States as Netanyahu.
So why was he invited to address a rare joint session?
was invited because the new Republican leadership of the House of
Representatives wanted to demonstrate, loudly and clearly, that Congress
will not support President Barak Obama in the event that he tries to
achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
And that is exactly
what the Netanyahu appearance today did demonstrate. The prime minister
unambiguously stated that he had no intention of making peace with the
He began by saying that, in point of fact, there is
no occupation, stating, that "in Judea and Samaria [the term Israeli
right-wingers use for the West Bank], Israelis are not foreign
occupiers" but the native inhabitants. (He cited Abraham and Isaiah from
He said he might consider giving up some of that
land but not an inch of Jerusalem. Additionally, he said that Israel
would retain most settlements and insist on a military presence in the
Jordan Valley (thereby ensuring the any State of Palestine would be
locked in on both sides by Israel).
He said that Israel would
never negotiate with a Palestinian government that included Hamas,
whether democratically elected or not. He declared that not a single
Palestinian would be allowed to return to Israel; not even a symbolic
return would be acceptable to him.
There is little reason to
elaborate. Netanyahu today essentially returned to the policies that
Israel pursued before Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat agreed on mutual
recognition and the joint pursuit of peace.
And the worst part
is not the appalling things Netanyahu said, but how Congress received
them. Even Netanyahu's declaration that there is no Israeli occupation
was met with thunderous applause with the Democrats joining the
Republicans in ecstatic support. Every Netanyahu statement, no matter
how extreme, was met with cheers.
Netanyahu was also applauded
wildly when he invoked Palestinian terrorism over and over again, even
seeming to lump his former "partner," President Mahmoud Abbas with
people who "educate their children to hate, [who] continue to name
public squares after terrorists. And worst of all continue to perpetuate
the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of
His bottom line, which Congress fully
bought, was that all Palestinians are terrorists who haven't earned a
state. And probably never will.
Congress cheered and cheered and when Netanyahu was finished, they climbed over each other to touch the hem of his garment.
was as if Congress thought that no Palestinians or other Arabs (or
Muslims) would be watching. It was as if it believes that it can shout
its lungs out for Netanyahu (and thereby secure those campaign
contributions from AIPAC), without any consequences to US policy and
national interests in the Arab world.
But Congress is wrong. The
message it sent to the Middle East today, to the whole world, in fact,
was that Palestinians cannot count on the United States to ever play the
role of "honest broker" between Israel and the Palestinians. Even if
President Obama was inclined to, Congress would stop him. And AIPAC,
using the leverage its campaign contributions gives it, would hold
Obama's feet to the fire too. As far as Congress is concerned,
Palestinians do not exist. They have no rights, to a state least of
And that is why Palestinians have no choice but to
unilaterally declare a state in the fall. They cannot count on America.
As David Ben Gurion understood when he went to the General Assembly to
achieve recognition of Israel, a small, powerless people must take its
destiny into its own hands.
The good news is that, although
Congress is in Netanyahu's pocket, the Obama administration isn't.
Netanyahu insulted the President at the White House last Thursday and
then again in the halls of Congress by eliciting support for policies
Obama rejects. And the administration is furious.
That means that
although Palestinians can and should ignore Congress, the White House
and State Department are still in play. Yes, they will both go along
with Netanyahu, but, probably, without much enthusiasm.
can send a signal to our allies that although the United States cannot
openly oppose Bibi's policies because of Congress - and AIPAC's control
of it - the allies can. The Palestinians should not give up on Obama or
on Secretary of State Clinton either who cannot abide Netanyahu and made
sure she was out of the country to escape being present for his speech.
And so we can look forward to a unilateral declaration of
statehood in September. The Israelis who refuse to negotiate with
stateless Palestinians will have no choice but to negotiate
with the state whose land it is occupying. And those negotiations,
state to state, may produce peace and the "two states for two peoples"
that most Palestinians and Israelis aspire to. In any case, it's the
Palestinians should thank Prime Minister Netanyahu
and, even more, the United states Congress for making their choice so
much easier. Together they helped create the Palestinian state today.
And that is a very good thing.
As for Americans, we should be deeply ashamed of our Congress. It has been sold to the highest bidder.