Netanyahu Puts Restrictions On A Palestinian State
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now to Israel, where the prime minister didn't please the other side when he laid out his vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, but that endorsement came with some pretty severe limits on the Palestinians. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Jerusalem.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The caveats were many, but Benjamin Netanyahu finally said the two words that the Obama administration has been waiting to hear.
Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Israel): (Through Translator) As we have the appropriate guarantees, then we would be prepared to reach an agreement with regard to a demilitarized Palestinian state, side by side with the Jewish state.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That so-called state, though, would not be able to have an army, would not be able to control its own airspace, would not be able to make military pacts with other countries, an idea which the Palestinians swiftly condemned, saying those conditions would render an independent Palestinian state impossible. Beyond the endorsement of the so-called two-state solution, the prime minister gave few concessions and seemed to leave little room open for compromise. The list of demands were long. The Palestinians must call Israel the Jewish homeland, something Palestinians have been unwilling to do because they say it ignores the Arab citizens of Israel. The Palestinian Authority must actively fight the militant group Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu also stated categorically that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would not be able to return to their historic homes in Israel, and that Jerusalem should be the united capital of the Jewish state, two issues which are considered some of the thorniest in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of any future state, and strongly support the so-called right of return of the millions of exiled Palestinians. Ahmed Al-Wadi(ph) represents Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. AHMED AL-WADI (Representative of Palestinian President): (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The words of Netanyahu, he says, are the real obstacles in the path to peace. He tried very much, he says, to show that Palestinians are the obstacle. But in our view, his speech shows he's the real obstacle to peace.
The Obama administration in particular was interested in what Netanyahu had to say on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. It's been demanding a full settlement freeze. But the Israeli prime minister reiterated his support of so-called natural growth, where existing settlement blocs would be allowed to expand to accommodate the next generation of settlers.
Prime Minister NETANYAHU: (Through Translator) We have no intention of founding new settlements or of confiscating land for expanding settlements. But we must give mothers and fathers a chance of bringing up their children, as is the case everywhere in the world.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Netanyahu is in a difficult position. His largely right-wing coalition strongly supports the settlements and could fall apart if he goes against them. But the prime minister also can't risk antagonizing the Obama administration. America is Israel's most important ally.
Netanyahu's endorsement of a Palestinian state is seen by analysts here as a gesture towards the Americans. For all of his political career, Netanyahu has avoided using the word state to talk about what Palestinians could hope for in any future peace accord. Still, while being touted as a watershed moment by Netanyahu's allies, editorials in most of the Israeli newspapers dismiss Netanyahu's line on statehood as a ploy to curry American favor.
Ben Caspit in the daily Ma'ariv wrote...
Unidentified Man: It was one small step for the peace process, one giant leap for Benjamin Netanyahu. Even the most difficult of treks has to start somewhere. Welcome, Mr. Prime Minister, to the 20th century. The problem is, we're already in the 21st.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Arthur Shalat(ph), also in Ma'ariv, gave this view.
Unidentified Man: How moldy, how pitiful, and how irrelevant this all is to the bleeding swamp of our lives. This was a speech without a gram of nobility.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Manamed Hoffman(ph) teaches at Hebrew University.
Mr. MANAMED HOFFMAN (Hebrew University): I don't see anyone who is really pleased with the speech.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says in particular, it gives the Palestinians very little to work with.
Mr. HOFFMAN: The conditions that Netanyahu set forward in his speech means that there will be no Palestinian state in the near future.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the revival of peace talks between the two sides, say analysts now, also seems unlikely to happen quickly, either.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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