Bibi Netanyahu is a man of peace--or so he would have you believe. He made a speech in 2009 at Bar Ilan University in which he laid out his vision of two-states, Israel and Palestine, existing side by side in peace.
Whatever else you say about him, he is capable of giving a moving speech in which he appears to be a reasonable leader genuinely motivated to find a peaceful solution for his people, while giving the Palestinians the state that they need to live in dignity. But is there more to this speech than meets the eye? Here is Peter Beinart's analysis, taken from page 133 of The Crisis of Zionism.
Netanyahu helped deflect American pressure when, in a June speech at Bar-Ilan Universiy, he reversed course and endorsed a Palestinian state--thus prompting AIPAC to applaud his "strong desire to reach peace." But a close look at Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech showed that his vision of a Palestinian state bore little resemblance to what most people meant by the word. For starters, Netanyahu insisted that Jerusalem must remain "the united capital of Israel," thereby distinguishing his vision from that of former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, both of whom had offered to make East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state. Then he demanded that Palestinian leaders not merely recognize Israel, which the PLO had done in 1993, but recognize it is a Jewish state, even though Egypt and Jordan had not done so when they made peace. "To vest this declaration with practical meaning," Netanyahu added, the Palestinians must concede that there would be no return of Palestinian refugees to pre-1967 Israel, and thus no threat to Israel's Jewish character. But even those Palestinians who privately conceded that there would be no substantial refugee return vehemently rejected making that concession up front, since they--along with some former Israeli negotiators--believed that the final element of any peace deal would be a trade in which the Palestinians abandoned a large-scale return of refugees in exchange for a capital in East Jerusalem and some control over the Temple Mount. Netanyahu almost certainly knew that. AS HIS FATHER BENZION, EXPLAINED WHEN ASKED ABOUT HIS SON'S BAR-ILAN SPEECH, "HE DOESN'T SUPPORT [A PALESTINIAN STATE]. HE SUPPORTS THE SORTS OF CONDITIONS THAT THEY [THE PALESTINIANS] WILL NEVER ACCEPT." (Emphasis added)
Now, here is my interpretation of what Benzion Netanyahu said about his son, Bibi. Benzion was, in effect, saying "My son is a lying little weasel who who will say ANYTHING to convince the world that he is a reasonable man who REALLY wants peace, just so he can get everyone off his back and let him get on with the business of building settlements. I bet he's laughing at you suckers right now for buying into his BS."
In other words, his Bar-Ilan speech was lipstick on a pig, just, as I suspect, was his appointment of Tzipi Livni to head peace negotiations. I hope I'm wrong about this, but I suspect he appointed her in order to appear like a reasonable man before the world community. Meanwhile, he will not give her the authority to make the concessions Palestinians will need to reach an agreement. In the highly unlikely event that the Palestinians concede to his inflexible demands, then he will get all the glory. If, as is far more likely, no agreement is reached, then he can blame the Palestinians and lament that Tzipi Livni couldn't get the job done.
Now, I'm not claiming that if negotiations fail the fault will rest entirely with the Israelis. The Palestinians have missed plenty of opportunities in the past, and I wouldn't put it past them to miss a good opportunity in the future. BUT I don't trust Netanyahu to bargain in good faith either.
I am for keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty . . . I am against giving up the Judea and Samaria territories because every piece of land that we will give up will turn into a terror base of the radical Islam.
Netanyahu's supporters will undoubtedly say that he changed his mind as circumstances changed. They are free to call it as they see it, but I see little evidence that he was truly sincere in his call for a two-state solution. He maintains that he never had a serious partner for peace. Even if we take him at his word, if he REALLY wanted a peace deal then he would have halted construction in the West Bank and prevented more settlers from moving there. That would have allowed him to preserve the option of trading land for peace at some future time when the Palestinians became more reasonable and demonstrated that they were ready to become the partners in peace that Israel desired.
Update 3/8/15: Netanyahu says his Bar-Ilan 2-State solution speech is no longer relevant in light of today's Middle East reality. The real question is whether he ever thought it was really relevant in the first place.
Update 3/11/15: Haaretz reports that Likud activist Moshe Ifergan "described Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech as 'a brilliant way of thwarting [U.S. President Barack] Obama . . . 'Netanyahu presented tough conditions on the subject of Jerusalem and demilitarization – conditions that the Palestinians are in effect unable to accept . . . Netanyahu proposed autonomy while the Palestinians want a state, and in so doing he stopped the pressure on Israel.' "
Update 3/17/15: Netanyahu has removed all doubt and officially stated that he would not allow a Palestinian state if he is re-elected. Netanyahu openly revealed his racist side when he expressed alarm of a large Arab voter turnout. Netanyahu said:
The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on busses.
Imagine if the Republican Presidential candidate were to express alarm that there was a large Black turnout on election day. How would that play here? And this wasn't the first time Bibi showed his racism. As I write this it looks like the odds are good that Netanyahu will stay in office. If he does, do we really want to keep giving unqualified support to a state led by a racist
This article by Josh Ruebner details how Netanyahu played the Obama administration like a fool. READ IT AND WEEP.
Update 3/20/15: President Obama said that it was time to re-evaluate our relationship with Israel and threatened to withhold our veto when the Palestinians applied for full statehood recognition at the U.N. Netanyahu responded by saying he was just kidding a few days earlier when he promised that if he were elected, there would be no Palestinian State. Well, he didn't actually use the words, "Just kidding, faked you out." What he actually said was
I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state . . . What has changed is the reality.
He claimed that the reality changed because the Palestinian Authority refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, because Hamas still controlled Gaza, and because a Palestinian State could become a launching ground for Islamic militant attacks against Israel. But Hamas was in control in Gaza in 2009 when he made his Bar Ilan speech. And though the Palestinian Authority had long ago recognized the state of Israel, it had not recognized the Jewish State of Israel in 2009 when he made his Bar Ilan speech. So nothing changed there. And if he really wanted a two-state solution he would not have definitively delcared, "Not on my watch!". If he really wanted a two-state solution he could have said something like this:
In 2009 I promised to strive for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, hoping the two sides could live together in peace. Unfortunately, we have had no peace. Hamas has attacked us with rockets, and who knows how deeply they will be embedded in a future Palestinian State? If Hamas ever controls Judea and Sumaria we may be subjected to attack from there as well. So there can be no two-state Solution ....for now. Conditions might change again in the future. Hamas may collapse or its views may change with time. I want us to keep our options open should the conditions become ripe one day for peace. That's why I am ordering a permanent settlement freeze until that day comes. The more we build, the less contiguous land the Palestinians will have for their state, and the more painful it will be for us to give up parts of Judea and Sumaria for that state. We should have stopped settlement construction long ago, because any hope that there is enough contiguous land available for a Palestinian state is hanging by a thread. I will not allow more building! I will not be the one to cut that last tenuous thread of hope.
Update 3/22/2015: Peter Beinart compiled a list of quotations by Netanyahu and by various Israeli, American, and Britsh leaders and reporters that shed light on Netanyahu's trustworthiness. You MUST read it. Here is my favorite.
“the armor-plated bullshitter” —British Foreign Office nickname for Benjamin Netanyahu, as reported by former Tony Blair aide Alistair Campbell, 1998