Netanyahu gives ‘rock and a hard place’ speech

June 14, 2009

(ChattahBox) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his highly anticipated foreign policy speech cornered between his right-wing coalition and the Obama administration pushing for progress toward peace.  Seemingly attempting to straddle the middle, Netanyahu perhaps said enough to encourage the Obama administration, but not enough for  the Palestinians, and too much for his own hawkish government. In his first major foreign policy speech since taking office, Netanyahu dropped his opposition to Palestinian independence uttering the words “Palestinian state.” But he also attached a number of conditions to his endorsement, including that Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland and agree not to have an army, guaranteed by the international community.
The speech, delivered at Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University, drew sharp criticism as members of his own hawkish coalition were not pleased. Israel’s Channel One television reported the Kadima party declared it would not remain in the government, and the Likud Party sought to convene an emergency faction meeting to vote on the speech.

Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israeli television Netanyahu’s position will be impossible to accept. Netanyahu, he said, will have to wait 1,000 years before even one Palestinian will agree to negotiate with him. The Israeli prime minister spoke about a Palestinian state, but removed the status of Jerusalem and the refugee issue from the negotiations, he said.

Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of Obama’s call for a halt in settlement activity, reflecting his need to mollify right-wing ideologues in his coalition who reject any form of territorial compromise.

“There is a need to allow the residents to live normal lives,” he said, defending continued construction in already existing West Bank settlements. “The settlers are not our enemies.”   He has said he will not stop construction necessary for the natural population growth of existing settlements.

The White House for now is taking a ‘the glass is half full’ perspective on the speech pleased that the two-state door has been opened.

“The president welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a written statement. “The president is committed to two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine, in the historic homeland of both peoples. He believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel’s security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for a viable state, and he welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s endorsement of that goal.”


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