Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bibi offers peace concessions but puts pressure on Abbas



Netanyahu addressing a joint meeting of Congress
By GARY BAUMGARTEN

Israel is prepared to give up large amounts of land for peace so that a Palestinian state can be created. But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has to first recognize the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist.
That declaration from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came during an address Tuesday to a joint meeting of Congress.
“President Abbas must do what I have done,” Netanyahu said.
”I stood before my people and I said I will accept a Palestinian state. It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say ‘I will accept a Jewish state.’”
Netanyahu said peace between the Palestinians and Jews will lead to security for both, and both will be able to prosper side-by-side. But there are some conditions.
The biggest may have to do with Jerusalem, which, Netanyahu says, Israel will not permit to be divided. But, he notes, that the Israelis have been the best stewards of a city which has religious significance to three major religions.
“Only a democratic Israel has protected the freedom of worship of all faiths” in Jerusalem he said.
“The only time that Jews, Christians and Muslims could worship freely could have unfettered access to their holy sites” has been when Israel has controlled the city.
“Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel,” he declared. “I know this is a difficult issue for Palestinians but I believe with creativity and good will a soluton can be found.”
Another major stumbling block has to do with Hamas, with whom Israel, Netanyahu said, will not negotiate.
“Hamas is not a partner for peace,” he said.
“Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction and terrorism.” And, he noted, the Hamas charter says, “kill the Jews everywhere you find them.”
Israel, Netanyahu said, is ready to negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority. “But Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda. That we will not do.”
He urged Abbas to, “tear up your pact with Hamas. Sit down and negotiate. Make peace with the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu said if he does, he promises that, “Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to do so.”
But he warned against the Palestinians continuing along a path of demanding a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN.
“Peace can only be achieved around the negotiating table,” he said. “Peace cannot be imposed  it must be negotiated.”
Another potential stumbling block has to do with what borders might be negotiated. Because of shifting demographics, Israelis now live in large numbers on lands that the Arabs held before the 1967 war. And some land that Israel now holds has strategic value to the Jewish state. Netanyahu was firm in his contention that, while he is ready to give large swaths of land to the Palestinians,  ”Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.”
He also was insistent that any Palestinian state be demilitarized to protect Israel from future Arab aggression.
Finally, like the Jews who come to Israel to declare their citizenship, the descendants of Palestinian refugees would be able to go to a new Palestine to live. But not to Israel, Netanyahu said.
Gary Baumgarten is editor of The Jewish Reporter.

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