Everyone involved in the situation in the Middle East would probably remember Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech four years ago at Bar Ilan University as a remarkable one. That is mainly because it was the first time that Netanyahu spoke about the two state solution as something he would consider. Many politicians and analysts said that this was his final crossing of the Rubicon. Another known fact about this speech was that it was followed by a term of four years that was silent on the subject of negotiations with the Palestinians. It was as if Netanyahu said it and then locked the whole subject in a drawer and forgot about it (one of Netanyahu’s closest advisers at the time suggested a different view on this when we spoke recently- he said that the response was disappointing to Netanyahu, and that led him to great despair, and silence).
At the beginning of this week Netanyahu addressed Bar Ilan University once again, 4 years later, while negotiations with the Palestinians have been ongoing for a few months, a lot of expectations, fears and attention were drawn to the speech. It took place just days after his speech in the UN General Assembly on Iran, and most analysts predicted he would talk about the Palestinian issue, and since he is not in the negotiations rooms many thought that it would be an opportunity for him to say what he really believes in and to make a progress. Right-wing politicians were ready to attack him in the media if he would have been too hopeful or if he would have said something that they couldn’t accept, but Netanyahu planned it differently.
He began talking on the conflict with a question: “When people are asked what the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is – since if you want to provide a solution or fix a certain problem, first you must correctly diagnose the illness. Well, when asked what the root of the conflict is, people usually have an answer at the ready: the occupation, the territories, and the settlements and so on – it is all the same. Israel “taking control of the territories”, the area of Judea and Samaria after the Six Day War, the settlements – this is what sustains the conflict, this is what created the conflict for the most part. And I ask, is it really?”
Netanyahu went on to answer the question and to emphasize that the “occupation and settlements” are not the core of the conflict. “In my opinion” he surprised the audience, “if one must choose a process by which the conflict started in actual fact, I would set the date at 1921 on the day on which the Palestinian Arabs attacked the immigration hostel in Jaffa. Clearly this attack was not about territory or settlements; it was against Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel“. He continued his speech by going over the Palestinian riots that have happened since 1921, until he got to 1967 saying “There were no settlements for 46 years, from 1921 to 1967, nearly half a century. We were excoriated by the Arab public unrelated to settlements, unrelated to what is presented as the historic heart of the struggle.”
His hawkish address ended then in a powerful connection he made between the conflict with the Palestinians and the Holocaust saying: “Iran’s representatives repeat time and again the familiar trope that the Holocaust occurred without any connection to the Palestinian question and only later the Zionist leaders came along and made use of the Holocaust to repress the Palestinians. Well, what are the facts? The undisputed leader of the Palestinian national movement in the first half of the 20th century was Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. The Mufti was the living sprit behind those same attacks I described, from 1921 in Jaffa through the Second World War. On November 28, 1941, the Mufti flew to Berlin and met with Hitler. He expressed to Hitler his readiness to cooperate with Germany in any way. And he did so – both by recruiting Muslim fighters to join the ranks of the S.S. in the Balkans and by broadcasting propaganda for the Nazis.”
This fact, which were not well known before, struck the audience, and made me feel like I’ve been missing something. I finished listening to Netanyahu describing the Mufti’s moves within the Nazi leadership and felt anger. Later I understood that this anger is exactly what Netanyahu wanted me to feel. Instead of giving us hope, instead of showing that this time it could be solved he is metaphorically saying “forget about 1967, let’s go back to solving 1941 or even 1921”.