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Israeli papers react to Netanyahu speech with shrugs and cynicism

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Israeli opposition figures and columnists have reacted to Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress with a combination of shrugs and cynicism.

Some suggested that it had more served his desire for re-election than stopping Iran’s nuclear programme.

In his fiery speech on Tuesday , Netanyahu urged Congress to resist an emerging deal to contain Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

“The foremost sponsor of international terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons – and this with full international legitimacy,” he said.

“That’s why this deal is so bad: it doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

Related: Iran nuclear deal ‘will be a farewell to arms control’, Netanyahu tells Congress

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Responding to suggestions by Barack Obama that the deal may initially only be in place for the next 10 years , Netanyahu said: “A decade may seem a long time in political world but it’s a blink of an eye in the life of a nation.”

As the Israeli prime minister flew home from Washington, opposition leader Isaac Herzog derided his claim to know what was going on in the US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran, accusing Netanyahu of estranging the world powers involved in the talks and making an Iranian bomb more likely.

“The issue of the Iranian nuclear programme is complicated,” said Herzog. “I also do not have any idea what is going on there, but the prime minister’s policy is driving them to a bomb.

“Over the past two years, all the speeches notwithstanding, Iran has succeeded in becoming a country on the brink of nuclear capabilities. Because, those very leaders of the world powers are no longer listening to the position that he represents and this speech has only exacerbated the estrangement.”

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A number of Israeli columnists in the Hebrew media asked what – despite the standing ovations in Congress and flights of rhetoric – Netanyahu had achieved, with some suggesting that the Israeli PM had done serious damage to US-Israeli relations.

Among them was Shlomo Shamir in the daily tabloid Maariv, who wrote: “Not only will his speech in Congress not slow down or delay the negotiations between the US and Iran, it will accelerate them.

“His performance was also not exactly in keeping with his declaration two days ago, to wit, that he had great respect for the president and the office of the presidency. To heap praise on Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, in front of the thousands of listeners, is not exactly an act of respect and admiration towards the White House. Dermer is the figure most despised by the upper-echelon White House staff.”

In an editorial on the speech, the leftwing Haaretz accused Netanyahu of ignoring the greatest threat to Israeli democracy: the continued occupation of Palestinian land.

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Even in the rightwing Jerusalem Post, the response was to wonder about the fuss, with the political analyst Herb Keinon opining: “Netanyahu’s speech came and went. The negotiations with Iran will continue. The US-Israel relationship will remain strong. The sun will come up tomorrow.

“The true questions and tests will arise when and if an Israeli prime minister ever finds his back to the wall and feels compelled to do more against Iran’s nuclear program than ‘just’ address the US Congress.”

Related: Netanyahu’s speech to Congress snubbed by prominent Democrats

Others wondered what the impact of the speech would be on Israel’s elections in two weeks’ time, with some suggesting that it might be short-lived. Perhaps most damning was the assessment of Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth – a mass-circulation daily regarded as largely hostile to Netanyahu – which said he had alienated the very Democrats that Israel would need if it wanted tougher sanctions on Iran.

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“Netanyahu’s speech yesterday did not enlist the Democrats, rather it pushed them away: for example, take the reaction of [Democratic House minority leader, Nancy] Pelosi, a prominent supporter of Israel. The conclusion: it was not the Iranian centrifuges that Netanyahu had in mind yesterday, but rather the polling stations in Israel.”

Predicting that the speech would be a flash in the pan, he concluded: “Snow still covers the edges of the sidewalks in Washington. Winter refuses to end. The impression of the speech, it seems, will melt much faster than the snow.”

The US and Iranian foreign ministers on Wednesday began a third day of talks over Iran’s nuclear programme. US secretary of state John Kerry and Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif resumed their discussions in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux, hoping to work out a framework deal by late March.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

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