PM: Israel may give up settlements not in major blocs

Palestinian Authority rejects Netanyahu’s Knesset speech, saying it sets ‘preconditions’; Obama to address AIPAC next week

By T. LAZAROFF, K. A. TOAMEH, H. KRIEGER
May 17, 2011 05:03
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu Somber Speech 311. (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)

For the first time since taking office more than two years ago, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday evening publicly indicated that Israel might withdraw from areas of the West Bank not included in the major settlement blocs.

“We agree that we have to keep the settlement blocs. There is broad consensus that the settlement blocs must remain within the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. Israel was willing to make compromises for peace, he said.

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“These compromises are painful, because we are talking about parts of our homeland. It’s not a foreign country. It is the land of our forefathers and we have historical rights here, and not just security interests,” he said.

In a major diplomatic address to the Knesset, the prime minister laid out the diplomatic platform for peace with the Palestinians that he is likely to present in Washington in three separate events: a meeting on Friday with US President Barack Obama, a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, and an address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

He presented six points he said were critical to any future agreement with the Palestinians.

• The Palestinians must recognize that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people.

• Any peace agreement must end the conflict and all claims against the State of Israel.

• The problem of the Palestinian refugees must be resolved outside Israel’s borders.

• A Palestinian state must be demilitarized and not endanger Israel’s security. Israel would be allowed to keep a military presence along the Jordan Valley, as part of those security arrangements.

• Israel will retain the settlement blocs.

• Jerusalem will remain the united, sovereign capital of Israel.

“These principles outline my path. I know that a vast majority of people understand that it is possible to make peace only with those who want to make peace. Anyone who wants to destroy us, is not a partner for peace. A Palestinian government that includes those who daily state their intention to destroy the State of Israel, is not a partner for peace,” Netanyahu said.

Right-wing parliamentarians listening to his speech vacillated between relief that Netanyahu had so clearly stated Israel’s claim to a united Jerusalem, and alarm over the fact that he appeared to indicate that Israel would give up portions of the West Bank to a Palestinian state.

When Netanyahu made his wellknow Bar-Ilan speech in June 2009, in which he said he would recognize a demilitarized Palestinian state, he made no mention of settlement blocs. Territorial issues, he said at the time, would be addressed in a permanent agreement.

But on Monday, he came as close as he has ever come to publicly stating what Israel’s new borders might be, in advance of any agreement on the issue with the Palestinians.

His principles for a peace agreement fall short of the Palestinian condition for any resumption of negotiations, namely that Israel halt all settlement construction anywhere over the pre- 1967 Green Line, including in east Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority has long called for a two-state solution based a full Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line, perhaps with minor land swaps that would allow Israel to keep a small portion of the West Bank.

The PA immediately rejected the principles Netanyahu laid out in his Knesset speech as unacceptable, adding that they constituted “preconditions.”

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said peace required that east Jerusalem become the capital of the state of Palestine and that all final-status issues be solved at the negotiating table and in accordance with the road map and international law.

“Netanyahu’s statements prove once again that Israel is not interested in peace and that it continues to challenge the international community,” Abu Rudaineh said. “But that won’t stop the Palestinian people from demanding their full rights, including going to the UN.”

The Palestinian rejection of Netanyahu’s diplomatic plan comes when the international community, including the US, is pressuring him to unveil a plan in Washington next week that would restart the peace talks with the Palestinians.

US President Barack Obama is expected to deliver a major policy address on the Middle East this Thursday.

It will be followed, according to the White House, by a speech by Obama on Sunday morning at AIPAC’s opening session.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the address would “stress the importance of the US-Israeli relationship,” but would not be “a major policy speech.”

Instead, he said the speech Obama would give this Thursday would be “the major speech of the week.”

Carney added, “I think he looks forward to talking about the unshakeable bond between the Israelis and the Americans and the importance of that relationship.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has come up already this week in Washington, as King Abdullah II of Jordan met with senior US officials and leaders of the US Jewish community on Monday, in advance of a Tuesday meeting with Obama.

Abdullah said the Nakba Day violence on Israel’s borders underscored the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to the Jordanian Embassy.

“Injustice, the stalemate in the Middle East peace process and a loss of hope are major factors behind continued tension and violence in the region,” was the message Abdullah delivered, according to the embassy.

He later met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department, where he declared that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the core issue facing the Middle East.

He stressed the important role of the United States in bringing the parties to the table, as well as in dealing with the “Arab Spring” of regional uprisings.

“That is a challenge for all of us to hopefully get it right, and the role of the United States is going to be crucial how the Middle East moves in what direction,” he said.

But in the Knesset, Netanyahu said the Nakba Day events underscored the dangers facing Israel and revealed the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The root of the conflict has never been the absence of a Palestinian state. The root of the conflict always was and remains the [Palestinian] refusal to recognize that Israel is a Jewish state. This is not a dispute about 1967, it is a conflict about 1948, [it is a conflict] about the very existence of the State of Israel,” he said.

The demonstration that took place on Sunday were not marking Palestinian loses from the Six Day War, but rather they were protesting the creation of the State of Israel, which they mark on May 15, with an event that they call the Day of Disaster, Netanyahu said.

But the real tragedy that befell them is that their leadership has consistently refused to make the necessary historic compromise that would allow them to recognize that Israel is the national homeland for the Jewish people.

In moving forward, the prime minister said, there must be unity around certain principles, including the need to protect the nation’s border, preserve peace with Jordan and Egypt, thwart a nuclear Iran, and the continuation of a diplomatic process with the Palestinians that do not include those whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel.

“I want to make peace with a Palestinian state that will end the conflict. I cannot accept a Palestinian state that will continue it. I am willing to accept a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, but I will not accept a Palestinian state in place of Israel,” Netanyahu said.


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