Bibi says no

So much for President Obama’s constructive attempt to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to attempt a peace deal based on the principles of land swaps around the pre-war 1967 border and security, which would leave the thorniest issues of the status of Jerusalem and the return of refugees until later.

In his speech to the joint session of Congress today, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was back to his old statements of principles. He included his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and provided an energetic explanation of why his government would not accept a return to “1967 lines” that would leave Israel “half the width of the Washington Beltway,” or nine miles wide. He emphatically ruled out any division of Jerusalem, which he said “must remain the united capital of Israel.”

If he is indeed ready for the “far-reaching compromise” he mentioned in order to achieve peace with the Palestinians, it is not at all clear what that would be.

That’s it, then. As a result of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, and this predictably hardline speech to Congress, the peace process is as dead as it ever was. The Palestinians will pursue their plans for statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in September. Maybe they will figure out a way with the Quartet on Middle East peace — U.S., U.K., European Union and Russia — on following up on their deal with the Hamas rulers in Gaza. For Netanyahu, this was tantamount to doing a deal with the devil, “a Palestinian version of al Qaeda.”

There were precious few reasons for optimism before Netanyahu came to Washington. Since then, we have seen him lecturing the president of the United States in front of a primetime TV audience in Israel during a visit to the White House. I think he just lost a partner for peace, and it’s not the Palestinian president.