Sometimes in politics, it's necessary to look at events through the other end of the telescope. A paradigm shift, some call it. A hundred years ago, my party was led by a Liberal Prime Minister - a Liberal Prime Minister - who opposed votes for women, believed in Britain's imperialist subjugation of millions of people and thought that declaring war on Germany was a good idea. It has to be said that it is no longer Liberal Democrat policy to force-feed suffragettes, enslave India or start World War I. In other words, progressive opinion is sometimes wrong and often undergoes radical shifts over time. With that in mind, here is a transcript of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech today to Congress.
I've already made it clear that I hold no special brief for Mr Netanyahu; I wish that Israel had a thriving liberal party and a liberal prime minister, but it doesn't, it has Mr Netanyahu, so if anything is to be achieved today, it's him who has to achieve it. It's not that I 'agree' with everything that he said, there is much that I could have wanted him to say quite differently (although it must be said that he is a very good speaker and clearly has a very good speechwriter). I don't have a video of the full speech (it came over much better on TV than on the page), so let's go with the transcript.
What I am suggesting is that, as an imaginative exercise, people clear their minds of their pre-conceived opinions, read this speech and consider whether or not Mr Netanyahu might not have a point in some of his broad strategic arguments? His arguments will be quite different from those that are most familiar to many people reading this, and that's why I'm urging people to consider them afresh. No more than that. Here, incidentally, is the moment when Mr Netanyahu dealt most effectively with a heckler, and this clip is definitely worth a look.
Is it possible, moving forward, that something can be achieved on the basis of these words from this speech:
So now here is the question. You have to ask it. If the benefits of peace with the Palestinians are so clear, why has peace eluded us? Because all six Israeli Prime Ministers since the signing of Oslo accords agreed to establish a Palestinian state. Myself included. So why has peace not been achieved? Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.
You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. This is what this conflict is about. In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews said yes. The Palestinians said no. In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli Prime Ministers, to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six Day War.
They were simply unwilling to end the conflict. And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.
My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said… "I will accept a Palestinian state." It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say… "I will accept a Jewish state."
Those six words will change history. They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end. That they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. They will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace. With such a partner, the people of Israel will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise.
Incidentally, we are free in Britain to read this speech if we choose to do so - I wish I could say the same for hundreds of millions of Arab people living under dictatorial regimes across the Middle East. As Mr Netanyahu also said today (and some of you won't like it, but it happens to be true):
Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one-percent are truly free, and they're all citizens of Israel!