- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set tough conditions for Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state, and he refused to halt construction of Israeli homes on land claimed by Palestinians, in remarks widely viewed as a response to President Barack Obama’s recent address to the Muslim world.

Mr. Netanyahu also said that Jerusalem must remain undivided and under Israeli rule, rejecting Palestinian claims to the holy city’s traditionally Arab eastern section as the future capital of Palestine.

“The truth is that in the heart of our homeland there is a big Palestinian public. We don’t want to govern them, or to run their lives or to impose our flag on them,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu said he envisions “two free peoples” living as “good neighbors with mutual respect, each with its own flag and national anthem.”

Addressing an audience at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, Mr. Netanyahu sought to regain the diplomatic initiative after Mr. Obama’s recent address to the Muslim world at Cairo University.

The speech came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was declared the victor in Iranian elections, a result that Mr. Netanyahu said highlights Tehran’s threat to Israel’s existence.

“The biggest threat to Israel, the Middle East, and all humanity is the meeting between extremist Islam and nuclear weapons,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu went further than any leader of the Likud party in recognizing the need for a Palestinian state, but he placed two conditions: that the United States gives a guarantee that it remain demilitarized and that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Recognition of Israel as the Jewish state would mean that Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli Arab would not be repatriated to Israel because it would erode the Jewish majority, Mr. Netanyahu said.

In a nod to hawkish members of his center-right coalition, Mr. Netanyahu rejected Mr. Obama’s call — eiterated in his Cairo speech — that Israel stop building homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and in traditionally Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

He said construction was needed for some 300,000 settlers in the West bank and another 180,000 in East Jerusalem to continue living “normal lives.” In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Mr. Obama welcomed the speech as an important step forward.

“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,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to sit down to the negotiating table “without preconditions.”

The Israeli prime minister said that demilitarized Palestinian state means that missiles would not be allowed in Palestinian territory and that a Palestinian state would not be able to conclude military alliances with other parties.

Saeb Erekat, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, said the conditions outlined by Mr. Netanyahu ended prospect for negotiations.

“Netanyahu’s speech closed the door to permanent status negotiations,” Mr. Erekat said, according to Associated Press. “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.”

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report in Washington.


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