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Palestinian Leaders Critical of Netanyahu’s Speech

Despite receiving some support from the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for a qualified Palestinian state was widely unpopular with Palestinian leaders, spurring one prominent figure to call for the annulment of the Arab Peace Initiative.

(Inter Press Service)

Despite receiving some support from the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s June 14 foreign policy speech, in which he called for a qualified Palestinian state, was widely unpopular with Palestinian leaders.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and a close confidant of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, said the speech was empty of content and pointless. Rabbo called Netanyahu a “swindler … who makes up tricks about the achievement of peace,” according to the Palestinian news agency Maan.

Similarly, Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeinah declared that “Netanyahu’s remarks have sabotaged all initiatives, paralyzed all efforts being made, and challenged the Palestinian, Arab, and American positions.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who just last week told the Inter Press Service (IPS) that Palestinians were politically in their strongest position ever, and that this time around the United States meant business, also lashed out at Netanyahu’s speech.

Erekat said the Israeli premier’s speech had “closed the door to permanent status negotiations. We ask the world not to be fooled by his use of the term ‘Palestinian state’ because he qualified it,” said Erekat.

“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 tortoise. Netanyahu has flipped it over on its back.”

Erekat has gone as far as to call for annulment of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab initiative was a peace plan sponsored by the Saudis and adopted in 2002 during the Arab League summit in Beirut. It called for normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world in return for Israel withdrawing form occupied Arab land and returning to its internationally recognized borders.

While the U.S. administration has hailed Netanyahu’s reference to a Palestinian state, something he has refused to do since taking office in February, the preconditions for establishing and defining this state are very much in question.

Netanyahu only clambered on to the two-state solution bandwagon reluctantly—and clearly in response to intensive pressure.

This pressure came not only from U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, but from the EU, Israeli opposition figures, and regional Arab leaders. Netanyahu also faces growing criticism among American Jews of his far-right policies.

In spite of Netanyahu’s last-minute support for a two-state solution, critics from across the Palestinian and Israeli political spectrum dismissed his speech as solely aimed at placating Obama and offering nothing but lip-service rhetoric about Palestinian statehood.

“The ball is now in the Americans’ court. It remains to be seen whether they will buy this faulty product Netanyahu is trying to sell them,” said Samir Awad, a political scientist at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

“Netanyahu, in a not very subtle way, basically undermines two of Obama’s main demands. He refused to cease settlement expansion, and the kind of state he envisions would not be a truly independent state by international standards,” Awad told IPS.

“Palestinians would have no control over their borders, natural resources or air space, besides being a demilitarized state,” added Awad.

Netanyahu’s refusal to cease settlement expansion means that returning Palestinian refugees, and ordinary Palestinian citizens, would not have full rights to the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Palestinian resources such as land and water continue to be expropriated for the benefit of the 500,000 Israeli settlers who, according to international law, are illegally living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory.

A third of Israelis living in the West Bank settled there during the years of the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s. Another third settled in the West Bank after the peace process was suspended. Forty-five percent of the Israelis living illegally in East Jerusalem settled there between 2001-2009.

In his speech, Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Arab League have already recognized Israel’s right to exist, but argue that recognizing it as a Jewish state would infringe on the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities.

Additionally, this recognition would negate the right of return of even a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who either fled or were driven out by Israeli forces during the Israeli-Arab wars.

Netanyahu has already said that no Palestinian refugees can return to Israel proper.

Furthermore, he has said categorically that Jerusalem will forever remain the undivided capital of Israel—thus ignoring international law, which explicitly recognizes that East Jerusalem is occupied. Netanyahu’s position preempts the PA from establishing its future capital in that part of the city.

The bitterly divided Hamas and the PA have found common ground over Netanyahu’s less than auspicious speech.

Dr. Ahmed Yousef, Hamas’s deputy foreign minister and political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, says Netanyahu’s speech was nothing but flowery rhetoric.

“His entire speech was meant only to satisfy Obama. It was basically nonsense with no real intention of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Even the overly-accommodating PA can’t stomach it,” Yousef told IPS.

Mel Frykberg writes for the Inter Press Service.

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