Perhaps the most depressing thing about it is how much it reminds one of Menachem Begin's response to Anwar Sadat in 1977. You get the feeling that the words are not simply tactical but come from Netanyahu's deepest convictions. Yes, he has declared a willingness to entertain the idea of a Palestinian state, so long as it is demilitarized. (For the record, Palestinian leaders in Fatah and the West Bank have never made an issue about having an army big enough to pose a threat to Israel--again, read the Geneva Initiative--and have often called for international forces to replace the IDF.) But he couched the point in Revisionist historical rhetoric that seems more an effort to wrest key Congresspeople from Obama than address the Arab world. My friend Sam Bahour in Ramallah told me he thought perhaps Hamas had written the speech, for all the good it would do Abbas.
Netanyahu has put, as Begin put, so many conditions on getting to a Palestinian state that one can understand the reluctance of Palestinian negotiators to get back in the room: recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people (readers of this blog do not require me to elaborate on why, as stated, this is impossible), Jerusalem, united, as the capital of Israel, natural growth of settlements, and so forth. Television commentators here immediately pronounced the speech a concession to Washington, at the same time as wondering if Washington will buy it. My unsolicited advise to Obama and Mitchell: put the speech in your pocket, declare it a breakthrough, and (as I said yesterday) start presenting details of a deal without imagining that negotiations will produce one.