- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tough terms for a Palestinian peace deal are just the opening moves in a drama that will have a few more acts.

Clinton said it was a good thing that Netanyahu, who leads a hardline coalition, went on the record in support of “any sort of two-state solution.”

A week after President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world and strongly reiterated U.S. backing for independent Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side in peace, Netanyahu endorsed Sunday an independent Palestinian state beside Israel for the first time.

Netanyahu had previously refused to agree to negotiate a two-state solution, reversing the position of the previous Israeli government, which backed the road map to Mideast peace unveiled by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia in 2003.

But Netanyahu attached conditions that were immediately rejected by the Palestinians — including recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, essentially means Palestinians refugees must give up their goal of returning to Israel. He insisted that a Palestinian state be demilitarized, and demanded that Jerusalem remain the capital of Israel. He also refused to freeze Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as the U.S. is demanding.

“Based on my experience with Mr. Netanyahu, he did what he thought he had to do to keep the ball rolling and not completely alienate the United States initiative,” Clinton told reporters at the end of a news conference on his new role as the U.N. special advisor on Haiti.

“This is the opening play,” he said. “This is his response to the Obama administration’s first move.”

“It’s just the beginning, and it’s a drama that will have a few more acts,” Clinton said.

Reporters burst into laughter when Clinton said he hadn’t gotten his talking points from the U.S. State Department and was speaking only for himself. His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is secretary of state.

Clinton, as president, brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Maryland in 1998, at Camp David in July 2000, and in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 — all to no avail.

He said Netanyahu’s proposal on Sunday was “completely unacceptable” to the Fatah-led Palestinian government, which controls the West Bank and would not lead the rival Hamas faction, which controls the Gaza Strip, “to give up violence and try to join the coalition government.”

Israeli and Palestinian politics are also “more fractured” than they were during his presidency from 1993 to 2001, Clinton said. “So we’re a long way from where we need to be,” he said.

On the other hand, the Saudi peace initiative proposed by King Abdullah in 2002 and relaunched in 2007 “has the support of the entire Arab world — save Syria — and other Muslim countries.”

It offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for the return of Arab lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Clinton said Obama, his secretary of state, and Mideast envoy George Mitchell “are basically taking the right position in trying to work through this in the right way.”

“What would have been a disaster is if Netanyahu had not endorsed the possibility of a two-state solution,” Clinton said.

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