Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech to the U.S. Congress on May 24, was like a battered fighter entering the final round of a championship bout. He knows his only chance to win is by a knockout. With nothing to lose, Bibi got up, and with the “Rocky” music blazing in his ears, fought the fight of his life.
It is hard to overstate the brilliance of Bibi’s speech. Knowing he needed America on his side, and that he couldn’t succumb to President Barack Obama’s demands, he put all his chips on the U.S. Congress and mesmerized a nation. No better case for Israel’s position has ever been made. He was rewarded with 26 standing ovations from the most powerful legislative chamber in the world.
Unfortunately, the speech was 18 years too late.
Bibi’s message should have been delivered to the world in 1993, at the very beginning of the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians.
That was the perfect time to declare that “Israel is not a foreign occupier” and that while it is willing to make painful compromises for peace, it “will never compromise” on things like defensible borders and security guarantees, the unity of Jerusalem and the impossibility of a Palestinian right of return.
Had Israel been resolute with its red lines from the start, it would have better established the credibility and justness of its cause.
Instead, the opposite happened. It was the Palestinians who stuck to their guns, and the Israelis who kept undermining their own position. At every step, the Palestinians pocketed Israeli concessions and just waited for more. They realized all they needed to do to strengthen their cause was to keep saying no.
Meanwhile, Israel, desperate to be loved by the world and to make peace with a hostile neighbor, went bipolar. One day, it would make an “unprecedented” peace offer; the next, it would become disillusioned with Palestinian violence and unleash its military. In 2005, it even showed the world how it can dismantle settlements by expelling 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank.
On and on this game went, until Israel woke up one day and said: “Hey, wait a minute. The more we compromise, the more the world hates us. The less they compromise, the more the world loves them.”