Israel's Netanyahu To Deliver Major Mideast Speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers what is being billed as a major address Sunday, outlining his proposals for a revival of peace talks with the Palestinians. The speech comes amid tension in relations with the Obama administration over West Bank settlements.
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Israel's Netanyahu To Deliver Major Mideast Speech

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Israel's Netanyahu To Deliver Major Mideast Speech

Israel's Netanyahu To Deliver Major Mideast Speech

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

We're going to begin this hour from Israel. As President Obama tries to restart Middle East peace talks, one of the biggest question marks has been Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister with a hawkish political history. This Sunday, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to deliver what's being billed as a major political speech. He will outline his proposals for reviving peace talks with the Palestinians. The speech comes at a time when relations between Netanyahu and the Obama administration are tense. Mr. Obama insists that Israel must halt the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro sent this report from Jerusalem.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday at the entrance to the city of Jerusalem, a group of young Jewish settlers handed out fliers to passing motorists in advance of Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech. In part, the fliers read, Barack Hussein Obama is putting pressure on Netanyahu that is unrealistic and unfair. The people of Israel need to remember for whom they voted and remind Netanyahu that he needs to stand up to the Americans.

Netanyahu is in an unenviable position. The leader of a mostly right-wing coalition that strongly supports the West Bank settlers, he also has to narrow the growing divide with the Obama administration. Zalman Shoval is a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and a close confidante of the prime minister's. He says he spoke to Netanyahu this week about the content of this Sunday's speech.

Ambassador ZALMAN SHOVAL (Former Israeli Ambassador to Washington): Netanyahu -he's basically a pragmatist. He's not a dogmatic ideologue, and therefore, he understands that he will have to make an effort, because of our relationship with the American administration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there is only so much the prime minister should give, Shoval says. Netanyahu, he says, will stand firm on the issue of settlement expansion, backing limited growth in large settlement blocks. Shoval believes the prime minister is also unlikely to give ground on the broader issue of Palestinian statehood.

Amb. SHOVAL: Will he say two-state solution? My feeling is not, and I don't really think he should. We are in a process of quid pro quo with the Palestinians, at least we should be in a process of quid pro quo. It's not just Israel giving and giving and giving and giving and making unilateral concessions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Instead, he says, the Israeli prime minister will set out a vision of some sort of future autonomous Palestinian entity.

Amb. SHOVAL: There won't be a Palestinian army - that Israeli security forces will have to maintain some positions on the West Bank, that they will not be able to control our airspace, that they will not be able to control our water resources. There will be definitely limitations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Shoval says the prime minister may announce some goodwill gestures - the dismantling of some roadblocks in the West Bank and even possibly the easing of restrictions on goods going into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israeli analysts believe he will also express support for the so-called road map, a U.S.-brokered document that was adopted in 2003. It outlines a series of obligations that both the Israelis and Palestinians must meet.

In return for the resumption of peace talks, aides say, there will be a series of demands, though. Chief among them will be that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. Dimitri Diliani is a spokesman for the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. DIMITRI DILIANI (Spokesman, Fatah Movement): I expect his speech to be, basically, a bunch of sentences beating around the bush - in a way not defying President Obama, but stressing on points that Palestinians cannot accept.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says Palestinians won't call Israel a Jewish state because they believe it disrespects the Arab population of Israel.

Mr. DILIANI: We recognize the state of Israel, and the Israelis can call it whatever they want. They can call it Jewish, they can call it socialist, they can call whatever they want. It's none of our business.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Diliani says peace talks should only resume after the settlement issue has been resolved.

Mr. DILIANI: So, talks would start right after he announces that they have put a halt to all settlement activities in occupied West Bank.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gideon Deron teaches at Tel Aviv University. He says, at the moment, the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians is at a deadlock. Deron says Netanyahu has the difficult task of placating both the Americans and his own coalition. Still…

Professor GIDEON DERON (Tel Aviv University): He has the room to maneuver. Does he have the guts? That's a different story. We'll see it on Sunday.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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