Peace prospects bleak for Netanyahu's U.S. visit

JERUSALEM Wed May 18, 2011 10:44am EDT

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during a news conference at his Jerusalem office May 18, 2011.REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during a news conference at his Jerusalem office May 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes to Washington on Friday to rally opposition to a Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition of statehood.

There is little indication the right-wing leader will, or can, offer new peacemaking ideas to persuade Palestinians not to take a detour at the U.N. General Assembly in September around the brick wall that the U.S. peace efforts have run into.

A unity deal between Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and the Islamist group Hamas has further dampened chances of a breakthrough. The accord signed this month, dealt a "tremendous blow" to peace, Netanyahu said.

In the run-up to the five-day visit, which begins with talks with President Barack Obama on Friday, Netanyahu made clear he would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, whose founding charter calls for Israel's destruction.

Adding to a cloudy outlook, aides to Obama, who have watched an "Arab spring" blossom and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations freeze soon after they resumed eight months ago, said the president had no plans to roll out a new initiative.

The U.S. capital will be Netanyahu's latest stop, after visits to Germany, France, Britain and the Czech Republic, in a diplomatic push against unilateral Palestinian steps to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He will meet Obama, who opposes the Palestinians' U.N. move, on the morning after the president delivers a speech on the Middle East that is widely expected to focus on the political upheaval sweeping the Arab world.

Speaking on Tuesday, Obama said "despite the many changes -- or perhaps because of the many changes that are taking place in the region -- it's more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table."

Netanyahu has voiced concern over the Arab unrest, saying it could bolster Iran's influence in the region as it pursues a nuclear program that Israel calls a threat to its existence.

Iran denies Western accusations it seeks nuclear weapons and says its program has only peaceful civilian aims.

POLITICAL RISK

Putting pressure on Netanyahu, who will address the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on Monday and a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday at the invitation of his Republican supporters, could be politically risky for Obama as he seeks reelection in 2012.

Obama has already had strained relations with Netanyahu over Israeli settlement building, cited by Palestinians as the reason they abandoned the peace talks. He will make his own speech on Sunday to AIPAC's annual assembly, a forum where U.S. politicians usually voice strong support for Israel.

"(Netanyahu) will tell the world, 'why are you rushing (to recognize a Palestinian state) in September, when you won't know until January what (Palestinian) government will be elected,'" Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, said on Wednesday.

Israel says its critics have an "automatic majority" in the General Assembly and a statehood vote would pass easily, though it is trying to persuade key players to oppose the move.

While Israeli military occupation of the West Bank would continue after the vote, Abbas said this week that U.N. recognition would pave the way for Palestinians to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations and the World Court.

In a speech to parliament on Monday widely seen as a dress rehearsal for his Congressional address, Netanyahu hinted at flexibility on territorial issues should the Palestinians drop their rejection to his opening demands -- primarily a call to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

He spoke of "painful concessions" involving "tracts of our homeland," a reference to the occupied West Bank to which many settlers stake a Biblical right.

Angering Likud legislators and settler leaders, Netanyahu also said Israel would retain settlement blocs in any future peace deal -- seeming to signal he was prepared for smaller, isolated settlements to go.

Some political commentators were skeptical, saying the comments, which Netanyahu said reflected a broad, national consensus, were a tactical move to avoid any accusations of intransigence as he prepared for his high-profile U.S. visit.

"No European or American leader would swoon with excitement on hearing Netanyahu's willingness to give up isolated settlements. They probably wouldn't even believe him," columnist Yossi Verter wrote in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper.

A game-changer could be any acceptance by Netanyahu of the concept of a Palestinian state based on the frontiers that existed before Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.

His predecessor, Ehud Olmert, unsuccessfully negotiated with Abbas along those lines, envisaging an Israeli pullout from almost all of the West Bank and swapping territory in Israel for settlement blocs.

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Comments (3)
todonada wrote:
The “automatic majority” in the General Assembly can be thought of as an antidote to the “automatic veto” in the Security Council.

The Palestinians need to level the playing field before negotiating with Israel, whose idea of a “partner for peace” is someone who agrees with everything they say.

Oh, and returning stolen land is “necessary”, not a “painful concession”.

May 18, 2011 10:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
PJW5552 wrote:
Netanyahu continues to make critical errors in judgment. The Arab Spring will not lead to a more compliant Arab shell around Israel, but a less compliant one, where Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and increasingly Turkey are less likely to support Israel and its efforts to impose its will on Palestinians. Egypt is already set to open its Rafah border with Gaza. Turkey prepares another flotilla for Gaza next month. The unarmed Syrian’s who Israel shot and killed for entering the Golan Heights (not Israel) are not going to be very friendly toward Israel. Now with Fatah and Hamas talking about unity Netayahu defines a peace accord as Israeli troop occupation of the West Bank forever and Palestinians bowing to Israel’s wishes.

Netanyahu is not someone interested in building trust with anyone. Rather, he has shown more interest in imposing his will on his neighbors. He has shown little interest in building bridges, but great interest in erecting and supporting barriers. He has shown little or no desire to cooperate, but rather to impose by force what he wants. He has shown no interest in listening or compromising to resolve differences, but rather spends most of his time blaming others for the problems and embracing inflexible positions.

When an Israeli leader shows no interest in facilitating trust, hope or the promise of peace, but only to give lip service to it as he actively works to prevent it, the US should abandon him. The path Netanyahu embraces is the path to war and conflict. The US does not need to be a part of his plan. What we need to do is distance ourselves from him and let him face the inevitable consequences.

May 18, 2011 12:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
StevenFeldman wrote:
The General Assembly has already voted for a Palestinian state (in 1948), along with a Jewish state. The Palestinian Arabs rejected it in favor of war and exile. In 63 years, they have not altered their mission (destroy Israel) or modus operandi (eternal war) one iota. They openly boast of this (in Arabic). If the Arabs believe that Israel will commit national suicide by agreeing to another terror state in the Judean Hills, they are sadly mistaken. Abbas had his best shot with Olmert; that deal, along with a Palestinian state, are now history.

May 19, 2011 1:03am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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