Israeli PM's Mideast speech a practice for Congressional address

14:12, May 18, 2011      

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by Adam Gonn

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday gave a speech at the Israeli parliament outlining the guiding principle for future negotiations with the Palestinians.

In the speech Netanyahu stated seven principles, which he said a majority of the Israeli public agrees with, including Palestinians' recognition of the Jewish state, no absorption of Palestinian refugees within Israel's borders, demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the preservation of large settlements in the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The speech comes ahead of Netanyahu's address he will give before a joint session of the U.S. Congress next week, which drew much attention recently as it's expected to help pave the way for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Local analysts believe the Netanyahu's Monday speech, which represents a draft version of his Congress address, doesn't contain any "surprise." Some also argued that it's quite important for Netanyahu to get the Americans on board with his plan.


"Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said more than 40 years ago that Israel doesn't have a foreign policy, but only domestic politics," Tamir Sheafer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told Xinhua, referring to Netanyahu's speech.

Regarding the speech's content, Sheafer said "there was nothing new," as most ideas are known from previous statements.

The U.S. Congress is considered to be supportive of Israel, so the Israeli prime minister will not present anything dramatic there, he said.

"I don't see any signs that Netanyahu is preparing a groundbreaking peace proposal," Sheafer noted.

The Congressional address has been dubbed as "Bar-Ilan 2," in reference to a speech Netanyahu gave in 2009 at the Bar-Ilan University, in which he for the first time backed a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.


Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University said that Netanyahu's main purpose was to tell the Israeli audience the principles of negotiation with the Palestinians.

"It's clear that Netanyahu is not going to come with a new intuitive," Gilboa said, "one of the reasons is the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas."

The two rival Palestinian factions agreed to end a four-year row and form a national unity government last month. Israel has warned Palestinian National Authority (PNA) president and Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas that he must choose "between peace with Israel or Hamas."

Netanyahu is often criticized in Israel for not being proactive in handling development in the Middle East. Gilboa, however, defended him by saying that the prime minister doesn't really have much space to maneuver.

He added that these accusations are part of Israel's internal political agenda, once again proving Kissinger's observation.


Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday disclosed a "draft" of U.S. President Barack Obama's forthcoming Middle East policy speech, which aims to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy following the regional upheaval.

Obama, like Netanyahu, demands that the PNA recognize Israel as the Jewish state, and that Palestinians renounce terrorism. But the two leaders differ on the final status of Jerusalem, which Israel sees as its "eternal and indivisible capital," while Obama, according to the draft, will call for making the city's eastern part the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Benny Miller of the University of Haifa said that it might be even more important for Netanyahu to sell his ideas to the U.S. than to the Palestinians.

"There are differences, but the Americans will see it as a starting point for negotiations," Miller believes.

As well, he said, Netanyahu's speech was very vague, and left plenty of room for changes.

Obama is going to call on Israel to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank and return to the border before the 1967 War, when the Jewish state captured the West Bank and Gaza.

Some analysts noted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' unwillingness to come to the negotiating table as Israel refused to extend a self-imposed 10-month settlement freeze that ended last year. Others contend that it was Obama's inability to pressure Israel to extend the moratorium that has led to the current deadlock.

Source: Xinhua
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