Lincoln * Institute

Colin A. Hanna

Colin A. Hanna

Let Freedom Ring, USA


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Let Freedom Ring

The Statecraft of Benjamin Netanyahu

by Colin Hanna

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a Joint Session of Congress this week was a classic. It may well be one of the finest speeches delivered by a foreign head of state inside our Capitol since Winston Church chill's memorable addresses during World War II — addresses that helped bring the two nations to a higher level of alliance and cooperation than had previously been the case, even between such close friends.

Similarly, Netanyahu's speech was a deft articulation of shared principles which, once fully appreciated, can lead to an even greater alliance between the United States and Israel. I say deftly articulated because it was at once commendatory towards President Obama for his takedown of Osama bin Laden and critical of the President's efforts the week before to preemptively concede precious negotiating capital by trying to coerce Israel into agreeing that going back to the pre-1967 borders was a good place from which to resume talks with the Palestinians.

Speechcraft and statecraft are not the same thing, of course — but on those rare occasions when speechcraft is truly exceptional, it really can aid the process of statecraft. We have not seen much excellence in speechcraft in the halls of Congress lately, but we certainly saw it on display on Tuesday. I would urge all listeners to American Radio Journal to view the entire Netanyahu speech, in video form rather than simply reading it in written form. What you will see is not mere eloquence, but the power of argumentation based upon shared principles that leads inexorably to shared conclusions. The truly bipartisan nature of the applause brought the two American political parties together, however briefly, over one of the most intractable of all diplomatic impasses. The most interesting part of it to me was that he did so not by serving up the pablum of vagueness and euphemism, but rather the red meat of clear and unambiguous objectives.

Having just urged you to see the entire speech, let me just give you a couple of examples of the clarity to which I just referred. These quotes are a study in speechcraft:

"Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East, Israel is what is right about the Middle East!"

He referred to the West Bank in terms that are Biblical and thus part of Christian as well as Jewish consciousness: "In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers!"

He hit very hard on the idea that the impediment to peace isn't the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather the acceptance of the Jewish state. He even went further and challenged President Abbas to proclaim his acceptance of a Jewish state to his people: "I've told my people I'll accept a Palestinian state — now it's time for Abbas to tell his people he'll accept a Jewish state."

He also stood his ground again on the so called 'right of return' issue: "The Palestinian refugee problem will be solved outside of the borders of Israel. Everybody knows it — it's time to say it!"

And finally, his piece de résistance: "Jerusalem must never again be divided. It must remain the united capital of Israel."

Each of these statements triggered overwhelming applause and even standing ovations. What Netanyahu demonstrated, and what we have so seldom seen from our own President, Senators and Members of Congress, is one side of a controversy so plainly stated that it actually draws people together. Most of the time, we accept the conventional wisdom that the only way to draw people together over a controversy is to state the controversy with such mush, such lack of clarity, such prevalence of euphemism that it won't provoke disagreement because it is so muddled that no one can even understand what's being said, much less disagree with it.

Netanyahu showed us the high ground of speechcraft, and we would do well to learn from it. Please listen or better yet, view this historic speech in full at your earliest opportunity.