Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan University and a selection of initial reactions

Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University

Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University

Al-Ayyam , June 15, 2009

Al-Ayyam , June 15, 2009

Osama Hamdan interviewed on Al-Jazeera TV

Osama Hamdan interviewed on Al-Jazeera TV

Front page headline, Al-Watan, June 15, 2009.

Front page headline, Al-Watan, June 15, 2009.

Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University
Al-Ayyam , June 15, 2009

Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University (Photo courtesy of the Israeli Government Press Office, June 14, 2009).


Netanyahu’s speech, a slap in the face for President Obama ( Al-Ayyam , June 15, 2009).


1. On June 14 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a political speech at Bar-Ilan University . In it he expressed his willingness to see a Palestinian state established alongside a Jewish state on condition it be demilitarized and that the Palestinians recognize the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.

2. The American administration welcomed the speech and called it "an important step.” The French foreign minister also praised it, calling it a step forward toward a Palestinian state. Palestinian Authority and Hamas spokesmen denounced it, sometimes in strong terms, calling it extremist and racist. The Arab world’s reaction was chilly.

Netanyahu’s main points

3. On June 14 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a political speech at Bar-Ilan University . It lasted 25 minutes and focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (the issue of the Iranian threat and the danger it poses to the region and the world were mentioned briefly at the beginning). In the speech, which reflected a broad Israeli consensus, Netanyahu presented the main points of his political vision regarding the resolution of the conflict and expressed his readiness to see a Palestinian state established alongside a Jewish state, on condition that it be demilitarized and that the Palestinians recognize the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.

4. Netanyahu appealed to the leaders of the Arab states to speak of peace and make peace. He also called on the Palestinians to begin immediate negotiations without pre-conditions, stressing Israel ‘s commitment to international agreements and its aspiration to live with the Palestinians in peace and security as good neighbors. He said that the root of the conflict was and remained the Arab refusal "to recognize the right of the Jewish People to its own state in its historical homeland,” but mentioned that both Egypt and Jordan had left the circle of hatred when they signed peace agreements.

5. He said that the Palestinians continued to make demands incompatible with a desire to end the conflict. Israel , he said, had tried to promote peace through withdrawals, with an agreement and without one, through partial withdrawal and full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In return Israel was rewarded with a wave of suicide bombers, thousands of rockets fired into its territory and continued hatred. He said that Hamas continually reiterated its intention to "liberate” the land of Israel ("Ashqelon and Beersheba, Acre and Haifa”), adding that even Palestinians moderates were not ready to recognize the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.

6. Netanyahu noted two fundamental conditions for ending the conflict with the Palestinians: The first , "the Palestinians must truly recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.” The second , "demilitarization. Any area in Palestinian hands has to be demilitarized, with solid security measures… We do not want missiles on Petah Tikva, or Grads on the Ben-Gurion international airport.” The Palestinians would not be allowed to bring in rockets and missiles, to have an army, to close Israel ‘s airspace or sign treaties with countries or factors like Iran and Hezbollah. In return, Israel would be willing, as part of a future peace agreement, to accept a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish State of Israel .

7. He added that the territorial issue between Israel and the Palestinian would be discussed in the final status agreement, and "until then we have no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements. But there is a need to have people live normal lives.” " Jerusalem ,” he continued, "must remain the united capital of Israel with continued religious freedom for all faiths.” Israel , he said, would make every effort to "facilitate freedom of movement for the Palestinians,” to make their lives easier and increase their welfare. However, he added, "the Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path of Hamas.” The Palestinian Authority must establish the rule of law in the Gaza Strip and overcome Hamas, because " Israel will not sit at the negotiating table with terrorists who seek its destruction.” He ended by appealing to the rulers of the Arab world and to the Palestinians to continue the path of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, of Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein.

Palestinian Reactions

The Palestinian Authority

8. Palestinian Authority spokesmen were quick to denounce the speech, stressing their own demands which were not included in it. 1 The main reactions were the following:

i) Saeb Erekat , chief PLO negotiator, said that Netanyahu had not mentioned the 1967 borders and stopping construction in the settlements. He claimed that the issues of Jerusalem , the refugees, security and water had in essence been removed from the negotiations. He said that Netanyahu’s speech had finished of the negotiations ("every attempt to start a peace process has moved forward at a snail’s pace/turtle’s crawl and now Netanyahu turned the snail/turtle on its back”), adding that Netanyahu would wait a thousand years before he found a Palestinian who would accept "his miserable offers” for economic or security negotiations. He claimed that Netanyahu should not blame Hamas for hampering the peace process, because the one hampering it was "he who preferred dictating and imposing [conditions] on negotiations and peace.” He demanded that the Palestinian people act immediately to achieve national peace, and that the Western countries adhere to the Arab peace initiative and refrain from normalization with Israel until it withdrew to the 1967 borders. He called on the president of the United States to commit Netanyahu to implementing the road map and to meet Israel ‘s previous commitments, because the ball was now in his court (Al-Jazeera TV, June 14, 2009).

ii) Nabil Abu Rudeina , spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, said that the speech had destroyed all initiatives and expectations, and had raised obstacles to peace-making efforts (Wafa News Agency, June 14, 2009). He said that Netanyahu’s lack of recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state and his lack of a solution for the Palestinian refugees would not lead to a "just, comprehensive” peace. He called on the American administration "to take responsibility in the matter,” and claimed that Netanyahu’s speech presented a clear challenge to the administration and to the positions of the Palestinians, the international community and the Arab-Muslim world ( Al-Ayyam , June 15, 2009).

iii) Nabil Amru , Palestinian Authority representative in Cairo , called the speech "a stratagem [aimed at] the United States ” and not a serious step toward peace. He said it was "the miserable show of a political position meant to pacify Obama,” and demanded that the American president commit Netanyahu to accepting the two-state solution (Wafa News Agency, June 14, 2009).

Hamas and other terrorist organizations

9. Spokesmen for Hamas and the other terrorist organizations, as expected, criticized the speech, calling it extremist and racist. They said it again proved that negotiations could not be held with Israel and that the Palestinians had to choose the path of "resistance” [i.e., terrorism].

10. Hamas’s initial reactions were the following:

i) Ismail Radwan , senior Hamas figure, said that the speech was "racist and had nothing new to offer,” and that it was "a slap in the face for all those gambling on peace efforts and an arrangement with Israel ” (PalToday website, June 14, 2009).

ii) Fawzi Barhoum , Hamas spokesman, said that the speech reflected Netanyahu’s racist, extremist ideology and that it did not consider the rights of the Palestinian people ( Al-Bayan Center website, June 14, 2009).

iii) Sami Abu Zuhri , senior Hamas figure, said that what Netanyahu proposed was economic peace in return for recognition and normalization. He called the speech "a mirage,” and said that it was racist and asked Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state while it alienated the Palestinian people from their rights and offered the shell of a state, without identity, sovereignty, Jerusalem , the right of return, an army and ammunition (Al-Aqsa TV, June 14, 2009).

iv) Osama Hamdan , Hamas representative in Lebanon , said that all those trying to convince the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel would not be able to do so after the speech. That was because no Palestinian would accept a unified Jerusalem as Israel ‘s capital. As for the "right to return,” he said that the Palestinian refugees would fight to return to their houses even if their leadership waived the right. As to the nature of the Palestinian state as described by Netanyahu, Hamdan claimed that it would have no sovereignty or the ability to defend itself (Al-Jazeera TV in English, June 14, 2009).

Osama Hamdan interviewed on Al-Jazeera TV 
Osama Hamdan interviewed on Al-Jazeera TV (June 14, 2009).

v) Ahmed Bahar , acting chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the speech given by the "enemy prime minister” Benjamin Netanyahu was racist and based on nullifying the Palestinian people, robbing them and ignoring their pain. He called the speech "Zionist, arrogant and threatening,” adding that it proved that "resistance” [i.e. terrorism] was the only way for Palestinians to receive the rights they deserved. He called on the Palestinians to unite in the face of "Zionist arrogance” and the threats "uttered by the terrorist Netanyahu” ( Al-Intiqad , Lebanon , June 15).

vi) Daoud Shihab , Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesman, said that the speech exemplified the extremism spreading through Israel and therefore it was impossible to reach a peace/political agreement with it (PalToday website, June 14, 2009).

The Arab World


11. The Arab world’s reaction to Netanyahu’s speech was chilly . So far, most of the reactions have come from the media and not the leaders. Most of commentators have rejected the speech, regarding it as voiding all the former initiatives and making new demands which will be hard for the Palestinians to meet.


12. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak first reaction was to say that no one would meet Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that it complicated the issue. He said that negotiations for the final status agreement had to be renewed immediately from the point at which they stopped (Middle East News Agency quoted by Ynet, June 15, 2009).


13. The Syrian media rejected the speech’s message (you cannot really reject a speech), saying it showed the gap between Netanyahu’s worldview and the international and Arab initiatives. For example:

i) According to the front page headline of the Syrian Al-Watan , Netanyahu’s speech proved Israel ‘s extremism and racism ( Al-Watan , June 15, 2009).

Front page headline, Al-Watan, June 15, 2009.
Front page headline, Al-Watan, June 15, 2009.

ii) As’ad Aboud , editor of Al-Thawra , wrote that Israel was as far from the concept of peace was east from west. He said that it would be a waste of time to wait for Netanyahu to change his thinking because he had won the elections based on extremism and racism, and his speech had turned the clock back to the time before the dialogue began ( Al-Thawra , June 15, 2009).

iii) Samira al-Muslama , editor of Tishrin , said that the speech proved, as expected, that Netanyahu rejected the Arab peace initiative, peace in general and all the international initiatives and decisions which demanded that Israel make peace ( Tishrin , June 15, 2009).


14. The Lebanese press also criticized the speech. The pro-Syrian daily Al-Safir claimed that the speech was a "declaration of war” more than an offer to conduct negotiations, because it posed conditions which could not be met, rejected all previous initiatives and returned Israel to the era before the agreements ( Al-Safir , June 15, 2009). The pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar wrote that the speech was a knock-out blow for efforts to reach an agreement and "a slap in the face for the president of the United States ” ( Al-Akhbar , June 15, 2009).


15. According to an editorial in Al-Dustour , Netanyahu’s speech was a slap in the face for the peace process and the Arab, American and international efforts. It also said that the speech did not come as a surprise and that Netanyahu had tried to distort history, and had proved that Israel was not interested in peace but in "occupation and war.” The situation required firmness to rein in "this madness” before things got worse (Al-Dustour, June 15, 2009).

The Arab League

16. Muhammad Sabih, deputy secretary of the Arab League for Palestinian affairs said that the speech pandered to the extremists in Israel but that it was far from the demands for peace made by the Palestinians and the Arab states.

The International Community

The United States

17. The American administration welcomed the speech and its mention of a separate Palestinian state, calling it " an important step .” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "the President welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech. The President is committed to two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine , in the historic homeland of both peoples. He believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel ‘s security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for a viable state” (White House Office of the Press Secretary website, June 14, 2009).


18. Bernard Kouchner , French foreign minister, praised the speech, saying it was a step forward in the concept of a Palestinian state he added that France would act with the rest of Europe and the United States to renew the peace process. He called on both sides to determine the borders of the Palestinian state and to deal with the issues of the final status agreement, especially Jerusalem , borders and refugees (Agence France Presse, June 15, 2009).

1 In the days leading up to the speech, Saeb Erekat spoke forcefully against Israel and claimed that Netanyahu thought he could fool the Palestinians with his upcoming speech (Voice of Palestine Radio, June 11, 2009). He also said he expected that if Israel did not stop building in the settlements, it would have two choices: to continue the "occupation,” anarchy, bloodshed and general violence, or to establish a state which discriminated between its citizens. At a joint press conference with American envoy George Mitchell he tried to minimize the importance of the speech, saying that its objective was public relations and the Palestinians had already seen the movie (Al-Arabia TV, June 10, 2009). He demanded that Netanyahu give a clear answer, yes or no, to whether he agreed to renewing negotiations on the core issues, and added that the Palestinians had no need of speeches, only a simple answer (Al-Quds TV, June 10, 2009).