Israel's prime minister has laid out his terms for peace in the
Middle East, giving the slightest of nods to the creation of a
so-called Palestinian state, but with a host of conditions attached.
The Palestinian Authority rejected the conditions, including the
demand that the Palestinians have no army or control of its air
space, saying that Binyamin Netanyahu's speech "sabotaged" peace
But Barack Obama, the US president, welcomed Netanyahu's speech as
an "important step forward".
In the much-anticipated policy speech on Sunday, Netanyahu said
international guarantees that the Palestinian state would have no
army and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state were crucial to
peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"In my vision of peace, two people live in good neighbourly
relations, each with their own flag ... Neither threaten the other's
security," he told his audience at Bar-Ilan University, outside Tel
"If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitarisation and
Israel's security needs, and if the Palestinians recognise Israel as
the state of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future
peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarised
Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state," he said.
He also called for "immediate negotiations for peace without prior
arrangements", and said he was willing to meet Arab leaders anywhere
to discuss the issue.
"I call the leaders of the Arab nations to co-operate with the
Palestinians and with us on economic peace," he said.
On the critical issue of Israeli settlements where he has received
considerable US public pressure in the last few weeks, Netanyahu
He said "we have no intention of building new settlements" but added
that "there is a need to enable the residents to live normal lives,
to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children", rehashing
oft-used lines to defend so-called "natural growth" of settlements.
Netanyahu also said Israel would not recognise the right of return
for Palestinian refugees, saying that the problem must be solved
outside of Israel's borders.
And he said Jerusalem – half of which it occupied in the 1967 Middle
East war, the half which Palestinians want for the capital of their
future state - would remain undivided, meaning kept in Israeli
Palestinians reject terms
The Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah in the West Bank reacted
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian
president, dismissed the speech, saying: "Netanyahu's remarks have
sabotaged all initiatives, paralysed all efforts being made and
challenges the Palestinian, Arab and American positions."
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' senior negotiator, called on Obama to
intervene to force Israel to abide by previous interim agreements
that include freezing settlement activity in the West Bank.
"The peace process has been moving at the speed of a tortoise.
Tonight, Netanyahu has flipped it over on its back," he said.
US welcomes 'first step'
The White House, however, appeared to endorse the speech, with
spokesman Robert Gibbs saying that Obama "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
"He believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel's
security and the fulfilment of the Palestinians' legitimate
aspirations for a viable state, and he welcomes Prime Minister
Netanyahu's endorsement of that goal," he said.
Sunday was the first time that Netanyahu endorsed the creation of a
so-called Palestinian state, but Lamis Andoni, Al Jazeera's Middle
East analyst, said "Netanyahu did not accept the principle of a
"He reduced the concept of a Palestinian state to that of a
demilitarised entity that would remain under Israeli control.
"This is at best a formula to establish a Palestinian Bantustan that
will not end the Israeli occupation but would legitimise Israeli
control," she said.
Palestinian leaders have rarely made an issue of Israel's insistence
that their future state should not have an army in a position to
threaten its neighbour, but they have rejected the demand that they
explicitly accept Israel as a Jewish state.
To do so, they have argued, weakens the position of the 20 per cent
of Israel's citizens who are Muslim and Christian Arabs, and
undermine a key demand for a right of return to what is now Israel
for millions of Palestinians classed as refugees since Arabs were
forced to flee during Israel's creation in 1948.
Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace negotiations at the
Annapolis conference in the US in November 2007.
But the talks made little progress and were suspended during
Israel's war on Gaza last December and January.
The Palestinians have said that they will not restart negotiations
unless Netanyahu publicly backs a two-state solution and stops the
building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.
But it seemed like the words Palestinian state were something rather
sour tasting that Netanyahu did not want to have in his mouth, Jacky
Rowland, Al Jazeera's Jerusalem correspondent, said.
"It was only at a very late stage in the speech he actually said 'we
would be prepared to work towards a real peace agreement to
establish an independent state living alongside Israel'.
"But only then if the Palestinians recognised Israel as a Jewish
state and if the Palestinian state was to be completely
"So, heavy conditionality from an Israeli prime minister who didn't
seem to actually want to utter the word 'state' at all."
Netanyahu's speech had been heralded in Israel as a response to the
address 10 days earlier by Obama to the Muslim world, in which he
vowed to pursue a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian
Obama's speech raised fears in Israel at the time that Washington
might qualify its support to its ally in a bid to improve its
relations with the Muslim world.
Obama has also put pressure on Netanyahu in the last few weeks to
back a two-state solution and freeze all settlement building without
But a tough crackdown on settlers could fracture Netanyahu's
right-leaning coalition government and Netanyahu defended Jewish
settlers in his speech, calling them "our brothers and sisters".
Hady Amr, the director of the Brookings Doha centre, said
Netanyahu's speech fell well short of Obama's address.
"Ten days ago, when President Obama spoke, there was so much hope,
there was so much vision.
"He spoke about America's failings over the years ... There was none
of that in this speech," Amr said.
"I think this is a sad day for the Jewish people, the Palestinian
people, the Arab people, the Israeli people, because this speech
does not bring us closer to peace.
"What it does is it lays down conditions. I guess it sets the tone
that this is not the Israeli government that's going to make peace
... I think it's a sad day for the peoples of the region."
But Mark Regev, the Israeli
government's spokesman, defended Netanyahu's speech, noting that the
prime minister had clearly signalled his acceptance of a Palestinian
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Jerusalem,
he said: "Palestinians can bring their positions to the table. We
will bring our positions to the table. This [policy speech] is an
important move forward. If all the moves are to come from Israel,
then this problem will not result in a resolution."