“I will refute all the lies hurled at Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised, or threatened, before flying to New York on Sunday. Accompanied by his admiring aides and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — who served as his warm-up act, announcing that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has lost all connection to reality — Israel’s No. 1 explainer did everything in his considerable power to fulfill this promise. He refuted and debunked, thrust and parried, kicked and bit.
And this is how yet another Netanyahu speech at the UN General Assembly finished: with a lot of Iran and a lot of equating Islamic State to Hamas, with the war crimes of that Holocaust denier, Abbas, and a finger in the eye to U.S. President Barack Obama, who is attacking Islamic State while simultaneously negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.
And lest anybody accuse him of doing nothing but spreading fear and dread and despair and depression, Netanyahu also threw a dry bone to the Arab world, his new imaginary partner for a regional peace that will also produce a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Oh, and this time, too, there was a gimmick — admittedly a somewhat boring one, in the form of an enlarged photograph of a rocket launcher alongside children in Gaza.
After Abbas’ ludicrous genocide speech, it’s hard to blame Netanyahu for paying him back in spades from the same podium by reminding him who his partners in the Palestinian unity government are. Negotiations between these two men won’t resume — that’s already clear, given their mutual lack of trust and respect — and especially not while the cooperation between Abbas and Hamas continues.
It’s no wonder that the first gleeful responses to the speech came from leaders of the right flank of Netanyahu’s Likud party, MKs Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin. They were beside themselves with joy. The big threat that has hovered over them ever since Netanyahu took office in 2009 — reaching some kind of agreement with the Palestinians — has gone and vanished.
Had Netanyahu seriously intended to launch some kind of initiative with the Arab states, he should have used the occasion to announce that he’s prepared to discuss the Saudi peace plan (as his foreign minister recently advocated) or to call for a regional or international peace conference (as his finance minister, Yair Lapid, has proposed). But he made do with numerous mentions of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, Cairo and Amman, as if the very act of saying these words constituted the longed-for peace. No plan, no vision, nothing. Just the same stale old phrase about his willingness to reach a historic compromise.
Because of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Netanyahu arrived at the United Nations at the last moment, like a guest who arrives at a party after most of the others have left, only to find the hosts already busy cleaning up. Only the most junior diplomats were present when he spoke. He didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know, but he did it superbly.
As for the Israelis who watched the speech on television, they were presumably proud of the polished, unabashedly Jewish and Israeli oration Netanyahu delivered in the place where his political career began three decades ago.
Incidentally, Netanyahu and Lieberman are currently waiting for Communications Minister Gilad Erdan to decide whether to accept their offer to become the next UN ambassador. If Erdan opts to stay in Israel, why shouldn’t Netanyahu take on the ambassadorship alongside his job as prime minister? He could fly to New York occasionally, give a speech, refute the lies and so forth, and then return to Israel. With all due respect for Erdan’s rhetorical talents, nobody can best Netanyahu in this arena.