Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regretted agreeing to address the Bar-Ilan conference on Sunday, almost as soon as the university’s publicists began talking up the “big” speech.
At the same place four years ago, at the start of his second term as prime minister, he made what became known as “the Bar-Ilan” speech, in which for the first time the Likud leader accepted the necessity of the two-state solution. That speech has become anathema to many, perhaps even the majority of his own party members.
Over recent weeks, fears were expressed among those on the right of Likud in relation to Mr Netanyahu’s expected announcement about the ongoing negotiations between Israel — represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni — and the Palestinian Authority.
In the event, the right had nothing to worry about. The PM’s speech, while it did not repudiate his commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state, was hawkish in tone and seemed to express little hope for the success of the current round of talks.
“Without Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and their renunciation of the right of return, there will be no peace,” said Mr Netanyahu, who added that Israel has no guarantee that the Palestinians “after generations of incitement” would accept Israel’s existence.
He stressed that, “very strong security arrangements will be needed.” He rejected the view that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, along with the settlements, was the reason for the conflict and said that its roots were in the 1920s, when local Arabs attacked recently arrived Zionist emigrants, and continued with Arab opposition to the United Nations partition plan in 1947. He even mentioned the co-operation between Arab nationalist leader, Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and Nazi Germany.
The right-wing’s reaction was ecstatic. Danny Dayan, the former head of the settler’s YESHA Council, tweeted that it was “probably the best speech by Netanyahu as PM”.
Labour leader Shelly Yacimovich responded to the speech by claiming that, “Netanyahu has been pulled back into the extreme right.” Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partner Finance Minister Yair Lapid told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday: “I don’t feel we need a declaration from the Palestinians that they recognise Israel as a Jewish state. My father didn’t come to Haifa from the Budapest ghetto in order to get recognition from Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas).”