Israeli PM Promotes Efforts Toward a Peace Deal


Netanyah at AIPAC-WASHINGTON — A day after meeting with President Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Tuesday made an uncharacteristically enthusiastic pitch for a peace accord with the Palestinians, saying it would enable Israel to tighten ties with its Arab neighbors and “catapult the region forward” on issues like health, energy and education.

“We could better the lives of hundreds of millions,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, commonly known as Aipac. “We all have so much to gain from peace.”

Mr. Netanyahu spoke of working to forge a peace deal “in the coming days, in the coming weeks,” suggesting that he had at least listened to Mr. Obama’s plea for both sides to sign on to a framework accord being drafted by Secretary of State John Kerry by the end of April.

“I hope that the Palestinian leadership will stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope,” Mr. Netanyahu said. Drawing only muted applause, he said: “You can clap. You want to encourage them to do that.”

It was an upbeat message from an Israeli leader who has often used his appearance before this audience to list all the hurdles to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. But Mr. Netanyahu also lashed out at a growing boycott movement that targets Israel, linking it to the darkest chapters of anti-Semitism in history.

At a meeting at the White House on Monday, according to a senior administration official, Mr. Obama pressed Mr. Netanyahu to accept the framework, which would set out general terms on issues like Israel’s security and the borders of a future Palestinian state, and allow the eight-month-old negotiations to be extended.

“The president said he understood that there are hard issues when you get down to the end,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the exchange. “But the agreement would have enough in it that was good for Israel for him to support it.”

Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Obama that “they were pressing up against very tough issues for Israel,” the official said. But unlike previous meetings between the two leaders, in which they clashed over Iran and Jewish settlements, he said there was little tension.

The meeting was also unusual because it was dominated by the peace process, rather than by Iran or Syria. Mr. Obama, after delegating the Israel-Palestinian negotiations to Mr. Kerry, has re-engaged in the talks. On March 17, he will meet with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to urge him to sign on to the framework.

In his speech, Mr. Netanyahu heaped praise on Mr. Kerry as “the secretary of state who never sleeps” — a tribute calculated to blunt those in Israel who have criticized Mr. Kerry for warning that Israel could be ostracized if it failed to make peace with the Palestinians.

Still, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a lengthy condemnation of the boycott-Israel movement, which has gotten traction lately, with a Dutch pension fund cutting ties to five Israeli banks and with the American Studies Association voting to shun Israeli academic institutions.

The movement — known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S. — was anti-Semitic, he said, and would fail to stop companies like Apple, Facebook and Google from setting up shop in Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu also praised the actress Scarlett Johansson, who refused to give up an endorsement contract with SodaStream, an Israeli company that operates a factory in a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. Her stance cost her the post of global ambassador for Oxfam International, which objected to SodaStream’s factory.

“Scarlett, I have one thing to say to you,” Mr. Netanyahu said, twisting Rhett Butler’s line from “Gone with the Wind.” “Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.”

Palestinian leaders and others who support the boycott said the time Mr. Netanyahu devoted to it in his speech suggests he recognizes the momentum it has recently generated.

The prime minister “protests too much,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, an American organization that is part of the movement, said in a statement. His focus on it “shows that the power of B.D.S. is growing, and Israel is feeling the pressure,” she said.

Labeling it anti-Semitic, Ms. Vilkomerson and others said, was a scare tactic to divert attention from Israel’s policies, particularly its occupation of the West Bank. Omar Barghouti, who helped found B.D.S. in 2005, said the speech was “a mix of bigotry and hypocrisy taken to the next level.”

“It is like a Jim Crow leader calling Martin Luther King racist,” Mr. Barghouti wrote in an email. “The B.D.S. movement categorically and consistently rejects anti-Semitism as it does Israel’s racist laws and policies.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Mr. Netanyahu’s focus on the boycott “means he is taking it seriously.”

“He’s reacting so hysterically because this is a turning point,” Ms. Ashrawi said in an interview. “People are saying enough is enough, and you cannot keep pulling the wool over the eyes and playing the victim.”

If Mr. Netanyahu was impassioned about the boycott movement, he was somewhat more cautious about Iran, which usually dominates these speeches. He called for more pressure to be brought on Tehran. But he did not mention an Aipac-backed bill to impose new sanctions, which Mr. Obama opposes and which has stalled in the Senate.

Looking ahead to the next round of nuclear talks with Iran, Mr. Netanyahu demanded that any nuclear agreement with Tehran require it to dismantle its heavy-water reactor at Arak, give up all its centrifuges and eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium.

But the Israeli leader leavened his presentation with humor, albeit of the genial-uncle-at-Thanksgiving variety, recycling a line from last year that if Iran’s nuclear program “looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck,” it is a “nuclear duck.”

NY Times