Prime Minister Netanyahu: A Proposal for Your UN Speech

Prime Minister Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver his annual address to the UN General Assembly in about a week. If I was his speech writer, here is what I would recommend:

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in recent years my remarks in this body focused on the threat posed to Israel and to the entire international community by the specter of a nuclear armed Iran. The threat has not diminished. In some respects, I am more worried than ever because, as I have repeatedly asserted, a bad agreement — an agreement that does not result in the substantial dismantlement of Iran’s enriched uranium and plutonium producing capability — is worse than no agreement at all. Yes, I am deeply worried, but still hopeful that the P5+1 nations will bring this situation to a successful conclusion through the use of diplomacy coupled with economic pressures.

Our religious tradition teaches that it is an obligation, not merely to seek peace, but to actively and aggressively pursue it. I take this obligation very seriously. This year, therefore, I am focusing on my aspiration for peace between my country and the Palestinians, which, hopefully, will extend more broadly throughout the Arab world. While I do not agree with all of it, the Arab Peace Initiative provides a valuable basis for a wider rapprochement.

We had a very difficult summer; a tragic summer. Millions of Israelis spent significant amounts of time in bomb shelters; scores of our finest young soldiers sacrificed their lives in defense of the homeland; we had civilian casualties, including four year old Adam Tregerman. There would have been countless more, had we not possessed an effective anti-rocket defense system called the Iron Dome.

I know that there was great Palestinian suffering in Gaza as well. We deeply regret the loss of innocent life there, especially when it involved children. When children die or are injured during warfare, no matter who they are and where they live, it is profoundly tragic. Members of the Israeli army are not perfect. They make mistakes. But the Israel Defense Forces is a moral army; I dare say as moral an army as has existed in human history. Three times in the last five years the IDF has been forced to fight an adversary with no sense of morality, the terror organization Hamas, which commits war crimes and crimes against humanity not only by targeting our civilians, but also using its own non-combatants as human shields. Therefore, while Israel mourns the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, we do not regret taking necessary and justifiable action to defend the lives of our own citizens.

President Abbas, the only way we Israelis and the Palestinian people will be able to overcome this conflict and terrible violence that have brought suffering to so many families on both sides is to fashion a just and lasting peace built on a foundation of two independent states for two peoples. It was this institution, the United Nations, which set forth such a basic prescription on November 29, 1947. The time has come, at long last, to bring this vision to fruition.

The UN provided a conceptual framework. But it is not by using this body and its institutions to pressure Israel that a truly independent and successful Palestinian state will emerge. Instead, I use this platform today to urge you, President Mahmoud Abbas, to return to direct negotiations — with or without the assistance of our American friends who for so long have invested much time and energy helping us try to overcome our differences. In the end, however, it is not about them, but about us. It requires our willingness to make painful compromises, to change the paradigm that has locked our two peoples in such a deadly struggle for so long.

Let us talk about some difficult and complicated issues. President Abbas, you and many others, including some friends of Israel, have described Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, what we refer to as Judea and Samaria, as the principal obstacle to achieving a two-state solution. It is not. There was hostility to Israel long before the first settlement was established following the 1967 War. You also have seen Israel’s readiness to withdraw from settlements, in Sinai when we signed a peace treaty with Egypt and unilaterally in Gaza. We are prepared to draw a final border between our two states that will result in many of our citizens leaving their homes in the West Bank. We will take such a step with deep sadness because this small piece of land contains countless places with deep religious and historical resonance for the Jewish people. But we will do it because our yearning for a lasting peace is even greater than our love for the land.

That 1947 UN Resolution I referred to before called for Jerusalem to become an international city, neither under control of the Jewish state nor of the Arab state. We know, and the world knows, that this is no longer a practical solution. Between 1948 and 1967, the city was divided, and we Jews were denied access to our holy sites; and a community that had lived in the Old City from time immemorial was evicted. Let there be no misunderstanding. Jerusalem was, is, and will always be our capital. And we will never allow this unique city to be divided again. At the same time, we also recognize the City’s significance to your people, and the desire for it also to serve as the capital of a Palestinian state. President Abbas — with goodwill, creativity and perseverance, we can find a mutually satisfying arrangement.

There is one issue, however, on which there will be no compromise – the long-term security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Restrained settlement activity, yes; flexibility on final borders, yes; even a creative sharing arrangement in Jerusalem, yes. But the IDF must continue to serve as the ultimate guarantor of Israeli security, and we will insist on placing our personnel where they need to be, especially on the eastern front, and for as long as their presence is required. I believe this can be accomplished in a manner consistent with Palestinian sovereignty and dignity.

I know, and, President Abbas, you are well aware that, as long as Hamas retains control in Gaza, this vision of peace based on two states cannot be implemented there. But we will start in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and we will show all the Palestinian people that there is another way. This other way will include a massive influx of financial assistance from the international community, including investment from the private sector. Israel not only will endorse this initiative, we will do everything we can to promote conditions in the West Bank conducive to economic development.

Over time, as Hamas’ grip is loosened, the residents of Gaza will become integral citizens of that Palestinian state living side by side with us in peace.

One last point. I have also insisted that a final agreement include some expression that Palestinians recognize Israel’s legitimacy as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people. This is not a tactic to impede negotiations. It is fundamental to the achievement of genuine reconciliation. We will teach our children that Palestinians have a right to self determination in part of the Land of Israel. But, in parallel, you should be expected to teach your children that the Jewish people have a similar right to a part of Palestine. You are not thieves of the land, and neither are we. This is not a clash of right and wrong, but rather of right and right. I also want to be clear–Israel’s national Jewish identity does not impinge on our obligation as a democracy to respect equal rights for all the country’s citizens, regardless of race, religion, ethnic origin or gender.  

President Abbas, the Middle East has become a boiling cauldron of extremism and hatred — largely pitting Arab against Arab, Muslim against Muslim – which has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. We Israelis and Palestinians, with other regional partners, have the potential to create an island of stability and coexistence that could serve as a beacon of hope for our entire region.

Zero sum politics must be put behind us. Your success as a nation is our success. Our security will be your security. For the sake of your children and ours — and in memory of Adam Tregerman and all the Israeli and Palestinian children victimized in this seemingly unending conflict — let us get started.

Shalom and Salaam

About the Author
Martin J. Raffel served for 27 years as Senior Vice President at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Director of its Task Force on Israel, World Jewry and International Human Rights.