Netanyahu speech draws fire from Right and Left

While some coalition partners sat in strategic silence following Netanyahu's speech Sunday night, Habayit Hayehudi and the right wing of his own Likud Party were anything but silent - or satisfied - by the premier's rhetoric. MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) said that his Knesset faction "has to weigh its political steps in light of the dangerous implications of Netanyahu's speech and his agreement to establish a Palestinian state." And in the Likud, back-benchers rushed to voice their disapproval, though they were careful not to divorce themselves from their party chairman. MK Danny Danon said that the acceptance of Palestinian aspirations for statehood was "one unnecessary sentence in a brilliant speech. It goes against the Likud platform and we will work in the Knesset faction and central committee to make sure it doesn't get implemented." Danon complained that the "sentence was added as a result of American pressure to say the phrase 'Palestinian state.'" Danon and Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara said that they would begin work within Likud to lobby against the recognition of a Palestinian state, arguing doing so would mean "Netanyahu is going against the decisions of party institutions." Danon added that he believes that the majority of the Likud Knesset faction is opposed to the use of the term "Palestinian state." Kara suggested that the Likud Central Committee should be assembled as soon as possible to vote on the policy advocated by Netanyahu in the speech, adding that he believes that the majority of members would vote against Palestinian statehood. Kara added that while party members should still show support for their chairman, Netanyahu must also respect the democratic decision-making processes of his party. Kara concurred with Danon's belief that Netanyahu had given in to American pressure, terming the White House "a branch office of the Balad Party" and accusing the American administration of trying to harm his ability to live freely in Israel. Minister Without Portfolio Bennie Begin, a rallying figure for the Likud's right wing, received an advance copy of the speech from Netanyahu as part of an agreement that Begin would not speak out against its contents in the aftermath. "Although I have reservations from some components of the speech," said Begin, "Netanyahu brought before the public important elements dealing with roots of dispute and presented facts that sometimes disappear from the political discourse in Israel and abroad." Labor faction chairman MK Daniel Ben-Simon applauded the speech. "This is a large step for the state of Israel and one giant leap for Netanyahu," said Ben Simon, in a paraphrase of Neil Armstrong's famous 1969 declaration as he set foot on the moon. "This is the first time the head of the Revisionist right-wing says the words 'Palestinian state,'" he added. Not surprisingly, Kadima members were quick to hail Netanyahu's statements. "I think that this speech broke taboos," said MK Otniel Schneller. "Today, you can say it clearly, most of the Israeli public on the right, left and center understand that the solution to save Israel as a Jewish state will only come with the establishment of a Palestinian state." Schneller described Netanyahu's statements regarding the settlements as "responsible and serious" and said that most importantly, Netanyahu had presented to the American administration "the perspective of the majority of the Israeli public." Nevertheless, Schneller stressed, he still was waiting to see if Netanyahu planned on taking practical steps to implement the positions expressed in his speech. "We should support Netanyahu from the outside," added Schneller "and if the constellation changes than we should reconsider our position relative to the government." But those to the right of the coalition were enraged. "Today Netanyahu has lost the leadership of the national camp, when he crossed not only the red lines of his election promises, but also converted," said Arye Eldad of the National Union. "In saying 'a demilitarized Palestinian state' Netanyahu is trying to eat a pig that has been slaughtered according to Jewish dietary laws. There is no such thing as a Palestinian state. Netanyahu knows that no political force can keep it from arming, forging pacts or acting like any recognized state," he added. Kadima MK Israel Hasson said that "as someone who sat with the Palestinians in previous negotiations, I can testify that they never opposed the demilitarization demand. So, I'm afraid, this speech might cause a wave of Palestinian violence." According to Kadima MK Ze'ev Boim, "instead of saying simply that a peace agreement should be based on the principle of two states for two people, [Netanyahu] laid down an array of preconditions that scuttle in advance the chance of renewing the talks." Meanwhile, most of the Left was unimpressed by Netanyahu's qualified endorsement of Palestinian statehood. "Although the speech does bear evidence to an encouraging shift from a person who, throughout his entire public life, warned against the establishment of a Palestinian state, and has finally acknowledged history's rules - Netanyahu's speech is too little, too late," Meretz leader Haim Oron said in a statement. "The array of reservations that Netanyahu put forth, including the stateless-state condition and his continued support of the settlements, will create difficulties for purposeful negotiations," Oron added. MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) expressed disappointment with the speech, saying, "The mountain of Netanyahu's address has given rise to a molehill. "The speech displayed an ideological fixation that wants a non-sovereign Palestinian state with continued settlement building," Tibi said. "I hope that the White House reveals Netanyahu's public relations deceit. The PLO does not have to and will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state." QUICK VOTE Do you approve of Netanyahu's vision as was presented in his policy address? Yes No Current Results Previous Results Former Kedumim Mayor Daniella Weiss said she heard Netanyahu say "no" to a Palestinian state and "yes" to continued construction in Judea and Samaria. Dani Dayan who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said, "Netanyahu's words stating his intention to create a Palestinian state are very serious." No one understands more than, Netanyahu who warned about this all these years, that a Palestinian state in the West Bank would quickly turn into a dangerous entity that would threaten Israel's very existence. But he said, he was pleased that Netanyahu spoke of how the Jews had a right to settle Judea and Samaria and that it would natural that they should continue to build there. Shaul Goldstein, who heads the Gush Etzion Regional Council, said that it was a mistake for Netanyahu to have "opened the door a little" for a Palestinian state, saying he runs the risk that the international community might interpret his words to mean that he accepts a Palestinian state. Just like with the road map, which Israel accepted with 14 reservations that no one remembers, so too here, it is likely that everyone will forget about his conditions and remember only his acquiescence to a Palestinian state, warned Goldstein.