Bibi and the Hill ‘mishpocha,’ and what did he say that is new?


I’ve spoken (so far) with four of the Jewish lawmakers who were in the "mishpocha" meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following his speech today to a joint meeting of Congress.

The meeting was off the record, and they were hesitant to say whether the tensions between Netanyahu and President Obama came up.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) put it this way: "He’s indicated the communications could have been better."

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, said the issue did not come up in Netanyahu’s meeting with the lawmakers, but offered this as a general comment: "My guess is each side probably wishes the other side had done something slightly differently, but it’s sort of in the past."

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) also said he didn’t recall it coming up but added that Netanyahu "thanked Obama" in his speech to Congress, "he wants to put that behind him, it’s the smart thing to do."

I asked Ackerman and Berman what, if anything, was new in Netanyahu’s speech. Both singled out this passage:

The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations, but we must also be honest. So I’m saying today something that should be said publicly by all those who are serious about peace: In any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. 

Berman and Ackerman both said this was unprecedented for an Israeli prime minister. I don’t think so; Ariel Sharon evacuated four West Bank settlemnents, and Ehud Olmert ran his successful 2006 campaign on a platform of evacuationg another 17 (the evacuation never happened).

It may, however, be new for Netanyahu, something Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post suggests.

Berman and Ackerman also singled out this passage as new for Netanyahu (as did Diehl in a tweet):

Jerusalem must never again be divided. (Applause.) Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. (Applause.)

I know this is a difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe that, with creativity and with good will, a solution can be found.

So he’s willing to be "creative" on Jerusalem — except this isn’t so new either. Our own Uriel Heilman got this scoop nearly a year ago.

Ori Nir of American for Peace Now points me to this passage as possibly new in tone, if not in substance:

The Palestinians share this small land with us. (Applause.) We seek a peace in which they’ll be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people living in their own state. (Applause.) They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.

Ori says there is a tonal significance in a Likud leader telling his base that it must consider the natural rights of Palestinians.

Finally, I noticed one significant shift — at least from opposition leader Bibi to Prime Minister Bibi. Years ago, during a visit here when he led the opposition, Netanyahu told Hebrew reporters that he rejected a right of Palestinian return to any Palestinian entity because that might create a demographic threat on Israel’s doorstep.

His locution on the same issue today was a 180-degree shift from that posture:

Jews from around the world have a right to immigrate to the one and only Jewish state, and Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) singled out this passage as his favorite:

President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people — and I told you, it wasn’t easy for me — I stood before my people and I said, "I will accept a Palestinian state." It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, "I will accept a Jewish state." (Cheers, applause.)

Those six words will change history. They’ll make it clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end, that they are not building a Palestinian state to continue the conflict with Israel but to end it.

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