Netanyahu pressured to keep mum on 'Palestinian state'

The heat is on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from within his own party to resist United States pressure and not utter the words “Palestinian state” in a keenly awaited policy speech.

“The expression Palestinian state should not be used,” said Likud member of Parliament Miri Regev, echoing the sentiment of several other members of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party ahead of Sunday’s speech.

To date, the hawkish prime minister has not endorsed the concept of a Palestinian state and has defied US pressure to freeze construction activity in West Bank settlements that are home to more than 280 000 Israelis.

Netanyahu hopes, however, that his landmark speech at Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan university will help ease the mounting tension in relations with the US, Israel’s prime ally.

But he faces a delicate balancing act if he is to avoid infuriating his partners in the governing center-right coalition, which is divided between those who reject a two-state solution, and those, like defence minister and Labour chief Ehud Barak, who support it.

Regev insisted US President Barack Obama can not force decisions upon the Israeli government.

“The US pressure is mainly psychological; one should not forget that the president is not the only one in the United States, there’s the Congress and the Senate, which support Israel,” she said.

Also among those pressing Netanyahu to steer clear of the concept of a Palestinian state is Benny Begin, a minister without portfolio and son of former premier Menahem Begin.

“If the only solution is two states for two peoples, then there is no solution,” he said.

Begin insisted that the Palestinians were not after a two-state solution but wanted a “two-stage solution at the end of which there would be a single PLO-Hamas state”.

On Wednesday, eight Likud MPs met with Netanyahu to try to convince him not to mention the words “two states” in his speech.

“We are here to ask you not to establish the Palestinian state at Bar Ilan University on Sunday,” MP Danny Danon said at the meeting, according to Israeli media.

Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau from the far-right Israel Beitenu party insisted that in any case Israel “has no Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate.”

“In the Gaza Strip, there is some kind of a terrorist state in the hands of Hamas, while [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] does not control the Arabs” in the West Bank, Landau said.

Netanyahu also faces pressure not to cave in to US demands that he order a freeze on all settlement construction activity in the West Bank, something to which Israel committed itself under the 2003 international peace roadmap.

The premier was to meet on Thursday with representatives of the 280 000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, according to army radio.

Visiting European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who was to meet Netanyahu later in the day, urged the premier to commit to the concept of a Palestinian state being created alongside Israel.

“I would like to hear a speech in which there’s a commitment of the government to the two-state solution, a commitment of the government on the question of settlements and a commitment to re-initiate relations with the Palestinians,” Solana told journalists.

“This is what we expect to hear and I am sure that we will hear something of that nature,” said Solana, who is due to meet Netanyahu later on Thursday.

According to Haaretz newspaper, Netanyahu is to announce his government’s adoption of the roadmap and the two-state solution while rejecting a settlement freeze and insisting Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.—Sapa-AFP

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