When a senior Pentagon aide was asked how he determines policy on a certain issue, he replied that he referred back to speeches delivered by the president.
"That's where the real policy lies," he said.
A senior official in the Prime Minister's Bureau gave a similar answer this week.
Within the next seven days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak in public three times. All three of the speeches will be delivered to the Knesset plenum. On Monday, the parliament commences its winter session. Later in the week, he will mark the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. Lastly, there is the anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory.
At Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu laid out the updated version of his manifesto on the Palestinian issue. Four years after the original Bar-Ilan speech, in which the premier expressed his support for a two-state solution and the establishment of an independent, demilitarized Palestine as part of a final-status accord, Netanyahu returned to the same stage.
With envoy Martin Indyk representing the American government as the sponsor, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat are engaged in a secret dialogue. U.S. President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have made it clear that the talks will touch on all of the core issues. By May 2014, we will know if a final-status accord is in the offing. In his most recent speech, Netanyahu sketched out his red lines: no to a return of refugees, no to national autonomy for Israeli Arabs, and yes to a Palestinian state on condition that it be demilitarized and that its borders be ringed by an IDF military presence.
Nobody on the Israeli side believes that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian leader will be willing to sign an agreement based on the terms stated by Netanyahu, but the prime minister is insistent. The Americans know it, and Netanyahu, who met with Kerry numerous times last month, said it explicitly.
In the 2013 version of the Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu referred to "The Lessons of History," a book written by American historian Will Durant. The premier said that we ought to, as the title suggests, heed the lessons of history. In Netanyahu's eyes, the most pivotal events of the previous century were World War II and the Holocaust. For the premier, these chapters yield insights about the behavior of superpowers, human evil, prevarications, and the ease with which appeasement-happy democracies were willing to be led astray by these factors.
Netanyahu is not letting up. At every opportunity, he will remind his audience of the Holocaust and the lessons that need to be learned from it in the contemporary context, from the Iranian issue to the Palestinian question. That was his approach in his meeting this week with his Greek counterpart. Netanyahu praised Antonis Samaras for his government's steadfast opposition to neo-Nazi elements in his country, though he immediately likened the issue to the story of the island of Zakynthos.
During the Second World War, the Nazi commanders demanded a list of 250 of the island's Jewish residents. They presented their demand to the island's mayor and chief bishop, who subsequently obliged. Their list had only two names, however -- the mayor's and the bishop's. The Jews of the island were spared. "That was a demonstration of courage of the highest order," the premier told Samaras.
The common thread that binds Netanyahu's Iran speech which he gave at the U.N. in New York and his speech on the Palestinians that he delivered at Bar-Ilan University is the preoccupation with the question, "What do they really want, and how much are we willing to tolerate?"
According to Netanyahu, he is prepared to engage in any dialogue that will lead to a genuine peace. His motto remains: "If they give, then they will get. If they don't give, they won't get."
Netanyahu is creating a linkage between Iran and the Palestinian issue. He doesn't believe that a final-status deal with the Palestinians will prompt the international community to better handle the Iranian nuclear project. He does, however, make a connection between the repercussions of any agreement that is signed, be it with Iran or with the Palestinians.
For Netanyahu, any agreement which the world powers sign with Iran must mandate a halt to all uranium enrichment, otherwise Tehran will keep marching on toward its plan for world domination, a plan which entails the destruction of Israel. Iran is already propping up Hezbollah and Hamas, and an agreement with Abu Mazen gives rise to the fear of a replay in Judea and Samaria, where a coup could quickly render those territories as a forward Iranian base. Netanyahu believes that aside from the nonconventional threat posed by Iran, there is also the conventional threat of another missile and rocket base surrounding Israel.
No foreign forces
Netanyahu is opposed to a bi-national state, which is why he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. Nonetheless, he has absolutely no intention to withdraw from territory so that it could later be taken over by the Iranians. So what is the solution? A demilitarized state, long-term security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, with the IDF in control of the eastern border and the crossings. Netanyahu is opposed to the stationing of international forces in the region, even if they are American. According to the prime minister's thinking, foreign troops would quickly become a preferred target for terrorists, which would eventually prompt them to leave.
Netanyahu said this week that to bring an end to the conflict one needs to understand the root of the conflict. The premier pointed out the difference between pogroms carried out against Jews and attacks on Zionist pioneers who arrived in Israel and settled in immigrant complexes in Jaffa in 1921. Netanyahu's grandfather was one of those who arrived in one of those complexes the year before in Jaffa.
That assault, just like the riots of 1929 and the attacks staged during the Arab revolt between 1936 and 1939 and the partition plan, was carried out in opposition to the redemption of Zion. In 1947, a proposal was put forth that would have created a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews agreed, and the Arabs refused.
"They didn't agree because the issue at the time wasn't -- and the issue now is not -- a question of a Palestinian state," Netanyahu said. "The issue was and remains, unfortunately, the Jewish state. The truth can be found in the constant attacks by our enemies and adversaries. They are trying to sully our ancient bond to the Land of Israel and blur the basic facts of the conflict between us and the Palestinians."
Meanwhile, the negotiating teams continue to talk. Netanyahu's instructions are to clinch a final-status agreement, not an interim deal. Here, too, however, one can be creative. One possibility is to reach a final-status agreement that would be implemented in stages.
During an appearance before the Likud Central Committee in 1995, Netanyahu broached the subject of an entity that is "less than a state" for the Palestinians -- a demilitarized state that doesn't control its borders with Israel and doesn't turn its territory into an Iranian terror base. It would be a state whose citizens would not be subject to Israeli rule. In practice, this plan has not changed.
Netanyahu's red lines from 1995 bear a great resemblance to the red lines that he sketched this week. The Palestinians, though, have their own red lines. On paper, they agree to a compromise in which they demand a state on just 22 percent of historic Palestine, or, as it is known, the '67 lines. Could there be a deal? Nobody knows, and no one is ready to wager.