Netanyahu's Speech in Congress and the Politics of Clapping

Netanyahu wants the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel and shun Hamas

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined his vision for peace with the Palestinians this afternoon in a rare address to a joint session of Congress, days after President Obama floated a peace proposal in which the borders of Israel and Palestine would be based on a modified version of the boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Netanyahu claimed he was willing to make "painful compromises" and "give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland" to broker a two-state solution but once again said he considers the pre-1967 lines "indefensible" for Israel.

For the people who measure these things this way, the affection for Netanyahu in the chamber was clear: the Israeli prime minister received 29 standing ovations from Congress during his address; at President Obama's last State of the Union he got 25. (In fact, Al Jazeera initially tweeted the speech with the hashtag #AIPAC"--the pro-Israel lobby Netanyahu addressed last night--before changing it to #US Congress. The mistake, we imagine, was inadvertent, but analysts could still have a field day with that one). Al Jazeera's Dima Khatib, for example, writes that Netanyahu would never receive 20 standing ovations in the Israeli parliament, adding that "US congressmen are so excited about Netanyahu's speech that they clap at almost every paragraph, like Arab parliaments do to Arab leaders!"

But aside from the politics of clapping, what exactly is in Netanyahu's proposal? The Israeli prime minister called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept a Jewish state and "tear up" the reconciliation deal Abbas's Fatah faction recently signed with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, since, as Netanyahu put it, Hamas is bent on Israel destruction. Netanyahu demanded that any Palestinian state be demilitarized, that Israel retain areas in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv suburbs and maintain a military presence along the Jordan river, that Jerusalem remain the undivided "capital of Israel," and that Palestinian refugees not be permitted to return to Israel. Analysis of Netanyahu's address is going in several different directions.

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg doesn't think Netanyahu said anything new in the speech. Instead, he says, Netanyahu was simply reminding Obama of Congress's "unconditional" support for Israel. NBC's Andrea Mitchell agrees, noting, "Netanyahu now surrounded by GOP and Dem leaders gets total support from the Hill. This is Israeli PM playing U.S. politics like a pro." Congress, David Frum writes, "doused the Obama speech with ice-water realism. There's only one force on earth that can make Israel [make concessions necessary for Palestinian statehood] if Israel doesn't want to. And that force just cheered and cheered the man who won’t want to."

In the West Bank, Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, told the AP that Netanyahu's speech amounted to a "declaration of war" and told an Israeli TV channel that the prime minister's peace proposal "is a peace of occupation, a peace of surrender, a peace of war." Abbas is reportedly convening a meeting in Ramallah tomorrow to develop an official response to the recent speeches by Obama and Netanyahu.

If Netanyahu didn't make any news today, The New York Times adds, that's not particularly surprising. "Netanyahu would hardly lay out new proposals to an American audience without telling his own people about them first."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.