Netanyahu Sees Future of Middle East in Biblical Terms

The Israeli premier tells the UN General Assembly that a choice must be made between the blessing of a ‘new Middle East’ and the curse of a powerful Iran.

AP/Mary Altaffer
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2023, at Turtle Bay. AP/Mary Altaffer

With Gazans launching explosive-laden balloons at southern Israel and with a throng of noisy anti-Bibi Israelis protesting at New York’s First Avenue, Prime Minister Netanyahu is calling on the United Nations to choose a blessed “new Middle East” over the Iranian curse. 

Mr. Netanyahu opened his address to the UN General Assembly with the biblical story of Moses arriving at the site of two mountains facing each other: one, Gerizim, represented a blessing, and the other, Ebal, a curse. We are now facing such a choice, he said. 

Yet, even as Mr. Netanyahu highlighted the potential blessing of an Israeli-Saudi peace deal, the normally polished, careful, and well spoken premier made an apparent slip of the tongue that could have launched an Armageddon-like curse. “Iran must face a credible nuclear threat,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Mideast-based websites seized on what was perceived as a threat to launch a preemptive nuclear attack on the Islamic Republic. Yet, the prime minister’s office quickly clarified that Mr. Netanyahu meant to say that Iran must face a credible “military” threat in order to stop its nuclear march. That formulation, often used by the premier, also appeared in his prepared speech text.  

In other parts of his speech Mr. Netanyahu snapped at critics who had long promoted a “false idea that unless we first concluded a peace agreement with the Palestinians, no other Arab state would normalize its relations with Israel.” The Abraham Accords with four Arab countries proved those “experts” wrong, he said.

“Just as we achieved the Abraham Accords under the leadership of President Trump,” Mr. Netanyahu added, “we can get a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia under the leadership of President Biden.” Peace with Riyadh, he added, would lead to wider peace with the Arab and Islamic world, as well as with the Palestinians. 

He spoke of the potential blessings of such a peace, including, as was proposed by Mr. Biden earlier this month, through a shipping and rail corridor that would connect Europe to Asia through Israel and the Gulf states.

In his now-familiar fashion, Mr. Netanyahu pulled up a map of Israel as it was surrounded by enemies in 1948, and, on the reverse side, a map of potential peace partners. He then used a red marker to draw the route of the proposed corridor. Borrowing a phrase from a late political rival, Shimon Peres, Mr. Netanyahu said that “peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia will truly create a new Middle East.”

The Palestinians would benefit too, “but they should not have a veto over the process,” he said, adding that no peace is possible in the midst of antisemitic lies. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, “recently said that Hitler was not an antisemite,” Mr. Netanyahu noted. “You cannot make this up.”

The biggest stumbling block to peace, the “fly in this ointment,” is Iran, with its proxy terrorists and its race to a bomb, Mr. Netanyahu said: “Eight years ago, the Western powers promised that if Iran violated the nuclear deal, the sanctions would be snapped back. Well, Iran is violating the deal, but the sanctions have not been snapped back.” 

The Biden administration and its European allies, though, are not eager to trigger the UN Security Council’s snapback option, which would nullify the remnants of the ineffective 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Instead, administration diplomats are reportedly seeking understandings with Tehran that would allow the Islamic Republic to stop just short of nuclear weapons capability. 

While there is near consensus among Jerusalem politicians that such an agreement would be bad for Israel, Mr. Netanyahu’s critics contend that UN and other speeches have so far failed to influence Washington. 

They also note that despite taking a rhetorical hard line on the Palestinians, his government has failed to make aggressive moves that would end a growing terrorist campaign in the West Bank and Gaza. All of which may explain why in his speech Mr. Netanyahu chose to speak more on the blessing of Saudi peace than the curse of war.

Some at Jerusalem and Washington believe that with the prospect of peace with Riyadh, Mr. Netanyahu would shed his far-right coalition partners and join forces with centrists like the National Unity Party’s leader, Benny Gantz.

For that, though, Mr. Netanyahu would need first to end his judicial reform effort that has brought tens of thousands protesters to the streets in Israel and now brings Israelis to shadow the premier at New York. 

At the UN, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a “strong, statesman-like speech, powerful in its delivery and content,” a former American ally who now often criticizes the premier, Abe Foxman, wrote on X. “Now, Mr. PM, show the same wisdom and balanced leadership when you return to Israel. Postpone the judicial reform, build a consensus, and unite your people.” 

The New York Sun

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