A year ago, when Israeli President Shimon Peres got up to address the United Nations General Assembly, he chose to begin by donning a yarmulke—a showman’s touch that indicated, symbolically, that he was speaking not just as a head of state, but as a Jew. This year, Israel’s new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu—who was not wearing a kippah—kicked off a little more aggressively, with a show-and-tell of Nazi documents recording the systematic genocide of Europe’s Jews. “These are the plans of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp I now hold in my hand, with the signature of Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s deputy,” Netanyahu said, waving a thick folder. “Are they a lie?”
Netanyahu’s case, familiar by now, was that the U.N.’s failure to challenge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated Holocaust denials, the Iranian regime as a whole, or its backing for Hamas terrorists in Gaza, threatened to undermine its ability to prevent terrorism—and, more to the point, undermines his willingness to believe that any sacrifices Israel makes on the road to peace will be met with a guaranteed payoff. Israel withdrew from Gaza, he argued, and “we didn’t get peace—we got an Iranian-backed terror base 50 miles from Tel Aviv.” So, he went on, “only if we have the confidence to know you will stand with us, will we take further risks for peace.” Get the Palestinians to recognize the Jews’ right to a homeland in ancient Judea, he said, and he would be happy to recognize that “the Palestinians also live there, and they want a home”—a demilitarized one, he insisted, but nonetheless one where they could live in “prosperity and dignity.” The delegations present—which did not include the Iranians—broke into applause.
Which is nice, but there’s still, as far as anyone knows, no deal on restarting negotiations. (So much for Peres’s hope, expressed last year, that a final deal could be reached by the end of 2009—a year after George Bush’s December 2008 deadline.) Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in interviews earlier today that he had no intention of re-starting talks without resolving “fundamental disagreements”—in other words, the dispute over the settlement freeze—while Netanyahu told Haaretz that he wouldn’t sit down until he had an explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Meanwhile, Politico cited two “senior U.S. officials” who insisted that talks about renewing talks are moving along just swimmingly. “Now we’re in deep discussions with both sides on the basis to launch negotiations,” one of the officials said. “It seems to me that clearly we’re in a better position than we were.” Clearly.