Netanyahu’s UN words followed an old script

Israel’s prime minister is in no position to lecture the Arab world until he genuinely seeks peace

Isareli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a photo of an alleged Hamas rocket as he addresses the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. Timothy A Clary / AFP
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When Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the UN podium and squinted at the teleprompter, one could be forgiven for thinking it was because he recognised the words. After all, he has been rehashing the same script for years – the same threats, the same catastrophic warnings, the same empty promises. The words don’t change, all that changes are the facts on the ground, as more Palestinian land is stolen, more settler homes built and more anti-Arab laws are passed.

This time was no different. The Israeli right – indeed, even the Israeli centre – are only interested in talks about talks. Keen to stretch the argument out for years, they seek any gambit that allows them to keep the Palestinians talking, while the government in Tel Aviv continues its occupation.

It is in that light that Mr Netanyahu’s remarks about the Arab Peace Initiative (API) should be understood. He was right that other Arab countries – including countries of the Gulf – have a role to play in achieving peace. But Israel has the greatest role, and he made no mention of that. The occupation is Israel’s to end: if its politicians showed leadership, they could end it tomorrow. Talking about the “responsibilities” of other Arab countries merely highlighted how few responsibilities Israel is prepared to take on. It has been negligent even on the responsibilities that, under international law, it is obligated to provide to the occupied Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu is in no position to lecture the Arab countries.

Nor is he in a position to seek “updates” to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative proposed by the Arab League – a plan that is widely seen as the best deal Israel is likely to get. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said in an interview earlier this year, the Arab world is ready to trade with Israel – “but sign the plan”. Until Israel accepts the API, no real progress can be made. If Israel wants to discuss the peace plan, it must at least accept the basics, the premise of justice for the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu has never done that and shows no inclination to pursue peace. At least when Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the world body, he offered a way forward. Mr Netanyahu’s path only leads back. Israel needs to face the new reality in the Middle East, not repeat the tune it has played for more than a generation.