Netanyahu broke substantial new ground in his speech. No Israeli prime minster before Ehud Barak spoke openly about Israel recognizing Palestinian sovereignty. Not because they couldn't imagine such a thing, but because it was assumed such Israeli recognition was an important negotiating chip, to be played at the right time. Barak played it at Camp David in July 2000, and in return got praise from President Clinton which no-one remembered half a year later. At the time, however, Barak pretended nothing he had offered was real unless an agreement was reached, as if he could take back what he had offered. So Barak never gave an official speech recognizing Palestine. Nor did Sharon. Olmert may have: it was certainly his position, and since he was prime minster later than Barak, the reluctance to speak openly was gone. Yet Olmert presided over a center-left Israeli government. Netanyahu spoke yesterday about Israel's being the first to recognize a sovereign Palestine, if only the Palestinians reach an agreement with us. He said this in a speech watched by millions, as the head of a right-wing Israeli coalition.
We've come a long way from Golda Meir saying "there is no Palestinian nation", and indeed, we've come a long way from the positions of Yitzchak Rabin, remembered worldwide as a brave Israeli leader seeking peace: Rabin never said there'd be a sovereign Palestine, he never intended to move back to the lines of 1967, and he never would have dreamed of dividing Jerusalem. On the first two, Netanyahu, for all his verbal gymnastics, is to Rabin's left. Moreover, the assumption all over Israel's media today is that he enjoys broad support in the Israeli electorate for his positions.
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is the editor in chief of The Atlantic
and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror