Palestinian officials have condemned a major policy speech by
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying it had
"closed the door" on moves to reach an agreement between the two
In his address, Netanyahu gave the slightest of nods to the creation
of a Palestinian state, an issue he has avoided since taking power
in April, but with a host of conditions attached.
"Netanyahu's speech closed the door to permanent status
negotiations,'' Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' senior negotiator,
"We ask the world not to be fooled by his use of the term
Palestinian state because he qualified it. He declared Jerusalem the
capital of Israel, said refugees would not be negotiated and that
settlements would remain."
"The peace process has been moving at the speed of a turtle.
Tonight, Netanyahu has flipped it over on its back," he said.
Netanyahu told an audience at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv on
Sunday that he would require international guarantees
that any Palestinian state would have no army or control of its
airspace and borders, and would recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
"If we receive this guarantee ... 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.
"Israel needs defensible borders, and Jerusalem must remain the
united capital of Israel with continued religious freedom for all
The so-called "road map" towards a two-state solution, which was
agreed by the two sides in 2003, talks of a sovereign Palestinian
state within the pre-1967 borders, which would include the east
Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian MP, told Al Jazeera
that by applying the conditions, Netanyahu had effectively refused
the formation of a Palestinian state.
"He wants to substitute a Palestinian state for a ghetto with no
sovereignty, with no control of its land, of its resources, of its
passage, of its roads, of its airspace, of its borders," he said.
"This is a game, he just used the word state to mislead the world."
The United States and European Union - both members of the so-called
Quartet of Middle East mediators - gave a cautious welcome
to Netanyahu's speech.
Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, said that Netanyahu had made
"an important step forward" and reiterated Washington's committment
to a Palestinian state "in the historic homeland of both peoples".
Jan Kohout, the Czech foreign minister, who's country holds the
rotating presidency of the EU, said that speech was "a step in the
"Of course, there are a number of other elements which need to be
analysed, but the acceptance of the Palestinian state is there," he
However, Netanyahu refused to concede to US demands for a complete
halt to all settlement expansion, as set out in the "road map".
"We have no intention of building new settlements or of
expropriating additional land for existing settlements," he said.
"But there is a need to enable the residents to live normal lives,
to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children like families
The Israeli prime minister also urged the Palestinian Authority in
the West Bank to re-establish "the rule of law" over the rival Hamas
movement, which seized full control of the Gaza Strip two years
"The Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path
of Hamas," he said.
"Israel will not sit at the negotiating table with terrorists who
seek their destruction."
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, dismissed Netanyahu's comments
and said that the Palestinians would continue to fight for their
"His racist speech and his policy on the ground - the extention of
Jewish influence in Jerusalem, settlements in the West Bank and the
siege in Gaza - proves he is lying about his desire for peace," he
"He will never trick us and we will continue to demand our rights
and our Palestinian lands."
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.