Is Netanyahu trying to shift the focus with new offer?

08:46, October 14, 2010      

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The aftermath to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech on Monday, offering a possible extension on settlement construction freeze if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, has questions arisen regarding the timing and reason for the offer.

Israel's 10-month moratorium on building in the West Bank, part of the efforts by U.S. President Barack Obama to restart Israeli- Palestinian peace talks, ended on Sept. 26. The talks were relaunched in early September but came to a halt again on Oct. 2 with the freeze ending, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded that the freeze be extended if negotiations were to continue.

The borders of the Palestinian state is one of the three major questions that would have to be solved before a final peace deal can be signed, together with the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees that fled or left when Israel was established.

Netanyahu said at the Knesset (parliament) on Monday that if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish nation's state, he could extend the settlement construction freeze.

"Netanyahu speech was an attempt to end the peace process," Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, told Xinhua.

The Palestinian National Initiative is a Palestinian political party established in 2002 and sees itself as a third path in Palestinian politics and as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas, the two dominating Palestinian movements.

"This is his way of killing the last opportunity for peace based on a two-state solution," he said.

"We, the Palestinians, need to respond by declaring our own state with 1967 borders immediately with Jerusalem as its capital and ask the world community at once," Barghouthi said.

While some analysts argue that Netanyahu does not really have a plan or goal with the peace talks and the offer was only made to stall the negotiation, Barghouthi seems disagree.

"He has a policy and it's very clear, he does not want a Palestinian state," he said, adding that "what he wants is clusters of Palestines and ghettos. This is his way of killing the peace process because he believes only in Israeli unilateral actions."

Asked why the offer is so controversial to the Palestinians, Barghouthi gave two reasons.

"Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state means ignoring the rights of 1.5 million Palestinians who live in Israel," he explained referring to Palestinians who did not leave Israel when the state was created in 1948.

"It also would mean eliminating the historical rights of the Palestinians including the rights of the Palestinian refugees," he added.

Naji Shurab, professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza, however did not outright dismiss the possibility that the Palestinian National Authority one day would accept Netanyahu's offer, only that the time is not now.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) might accept as part of the final peace agreement, but for now I think they will keep his demand that the freeze must continue if there will be any more talks," Shurab told Xinhua.

Contrary to the standpoint of Barghouthi, Professor Yossi Shain from the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University argues that Netanyahu's offer was a way to break the dead-look created with the end of the freeze and not a way to end the process altogether.

"The pressure is being mounted and there is a great need not to break the discussion and the impasse is so severe that everyone is trying to find a way not to break it," said Shain, adding that he does not believe that any party is interested in seeing the talks fail and come to a complete halt.

Shain added that what Netanyahu is trying to do is simply think outside the box and ask the Palestinians to show that they are willing to make additional efforts as well.

"So he is saying I'm willing to go the extra mile and make this extension if you will go further and make a decision that you will recognize Israel as the Jewish state as the beginning of the two- state solution," he said.

Whether Netanyahu will be able to come through is, according to Shain, still up for debate.

"Whether he has the leadership skill and whether he can move ahead and deliver the goods, it remains to be seen," he said, adding that Netanyahu is restricted in what he can do.

"The pressure will continue to mount and he understands the grave position of Obama prior to Nov. 2. He cannot alienate many forces in his own coalition and he can't also break the discussion, " Shain said, referring to the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, which often reflect the public's approval of the president.

Source: Xinhua


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