Monday, 15 June 2009

Analysis: Obama is Satisfied but Now Netanyahu has to Sell It at Home

Written by Matthew Kalman
The Media Line,
Monday, June 15, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grudging acceptance in his landmark speech on Sunday that a “demilitarized Palestinian state” could be created through peace talks with Israel has bought him some time with U.S. President Barack Obama, but it left Palestinians unmoved and may have started the countdown to the end of his unwieldy government coalition.

Netanyahu knows that his last government was brought down not by the Palestinians but by the Israeli right. He himself encouraged the right-wing revolt against former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that triggered a split in the ruling Likud Party and founded Kadima in 2005.

Netanyahu is forced to manage a complex balancing act between the conflicting pressures of the Obama administration, the Palestinians and his own coalition. There is little doubt that Sunday’s speech was directed more towards Washington than to Netanyahu’s own voters. It was delivered at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, rather than from the podium of the Knesset in Jerusalem. Consistent with the tradition of Israeli communications disasters, the official English translation of the Hebrew text was not made available by Netanyahu’s office until three hours after the speech was delivered, but according to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Netanyahu phoned the White House on Sunday afternoon and gave the highlights of the speech to Vice President Joe Biden.

Although Netanyahu had hoped that President Obama would watch it live, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the president was out playing golf when Netanyahu took the stage. But Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs lost little time in expressing the White House’s satisfaction. "The President welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech. The President is committed to two states—a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine—in the historic homeland of both peoples," Gibbs told reporters.

"The President will continue working with all parties—Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Arab states, and our Quartet partners—to see that they fulfill their obligations and responsibilities necessary to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a comprehensive regional peace," said Gibbs.

Palestinian leaders were not so enthusiastic.

"He spoke about a Palestinian state, (but) after he removed from it the issue of Jerusalem, placed the issue of refugees outside negotiations, placed security outside negotiations when he spoke about a demilitarized Palestinian state,” negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Jazeera. "Netanyahu tonight unilaterally ended the negotiations and there is no need for these negotiations anymore," he added.
"He will have to wait 1,000 years before he finds one Palestinian who will go along with him with this feeble state," he said.

Netanyahu’s Labor coalition partners welcomed the speech, as did the Kadima opposition, but there were howls of protest from the right, including from within Netanyahu’s own Likud Party. It evoked the days when Netanyahu himself was encouraging right-wing protests against Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has caved in to American pressure that influenced him to declare a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan,” said Danny Danon, a Likud lawmaker. “The Likud movement and the present coalition will not allow him to go forward with a Palestinian state. If the prime minister tries to advance the idea of a Palestinian state in practice, he will encounter opposition, not just from members of Likud, but from all the members of the coalition.”

Zevulun Orlev, a leader of the Jewish Home Party, said Netanyahu’s “declaration of a demilitarized Palestinian state” was “a severe disappointment and contradicts both his principles and our principles and is a repudiation of all the promises and obligations towards the voter. This statement requires a very serious discussion within the coalition regarding its future and cohesiveness.”

Outside parliament, the Jewish Front and Land of Israel HQ – the grassroots movement behind the expansion of illegal outposts in the West Bank – said they would pour their energies into bringing down the government and setting up more outposts. Benny Katzover, head of the Jewish communities in Samaria, accused Netanyahu of reverting to his former career as a commercial salesman. “The worst things we had feared were said and how,” said Katzover. “I very much regret that a prime minister talking about the heart of the Jewish homeland has become a salesman for that same homeland. No country in the world would trade in the territory of its own homeland. Nominating Judea and Samaria as the site of a Palestinian state is a very serious thing which I think Jewish history will neither forget nor forgive of Benjamin Netanyahu.”

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