Signifying nothing

I was a little perplexed on my Metro ride to work today to read a headline on a local tabloid saying, “Israeli PM endorses Palestinian state” with the subhed “Palestinians reject conditional offer.” In reality, we learned very little from Netanyahu’s “major policy address” except that he is a very, very smart politician. (Even this ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
584917_090615_netanyahu2.jpg
584917_090615_netanyahu2.jpg
RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL - JUNE 14: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his foreign policy speech at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, 2009 in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv. Netanyahu accepted on Sunday the U.S.-backed goal of a Palestinian state but didn't meet President Barack Obama's demand to stop Jewish settlement expansion. (Photo by Baz Ratner-Pool/Getty Images)

I was a little perplexed on my Metro ride to work today to read a headline on a local tabloid saying, "Israeli PM endorses Palestinian state" with the subhed "Palestinians reject conditional offer."

In reality, we learned very little from Netanyahu's "major policy address" except that he is a very, very smart politician. (Even this isn't really news.) It takes skill to give a speech that offers no concessions on territory, refugees, settlements, or Jerusalem, but still gets interpreted as a "major reversal" because he endorsed Palestinian statehood under conditions that he knows the Palestinians will never accept. 

I was a little perplexed on my Metro ride to work today to read a headline on a local tabloid saying, “Israeli PM endorses Palestinian state” with the subhed “Palestinians reject conditional offer.”

In reality, we learned very little from Netanyahu’s “major policy address” except that he is a very, very smart politician. (Even this isn’t really news.) It takes skill to give a speech that offers no concessions on territory, refugees, settlements, or Jerusalem, but still gets interpreted as a “major reversal” because he endorsed Palestinian statehood under conditions that he knows the Palestinians will never accept. 

We also learned that Daniel Levy is a very, very prescient analyst. Check out his advice for George Mitchell from April, in which he describes a tactic he calls the “say the magic words” game:

Thus far, Netanyahu is refusing to explicitly endorse the two-state formula. This is being nicely set up to become a rather large red herring, whereby diplomatic attention becomes focused on teasing out a linguistic formula to claim that Israel’s premier is indeed a “two-stater.” Last Friday’s headline in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv even suggests that Netanyahu is planning for a dramatic climb-down gesture during his first visit with U.S. President Barack Obama (now postponed from early May to possibly later in the month), during which he would declare acceptance of the two states position. What a colossal distraction and waste of time.

To paraphrase what always used to be said of former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat –what matters are his actions, not his words. Saying the magic words is of minor import. Ending the occupation and actually delivering on a two-state solution is what should matter to the Mitchell team. The latest ruse to apparently come out of the Netanyahu-Mitchell meeting was an Israeli demand that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state (something that neither Egypt, nor Jordan, did in their respective peace treaties with Israel) — a meaningless diversionary tactic.

Sounds about right.

Getty Images 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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