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Netanyahu says Palestinians could have state next year
Hints at not extending settlement freeze
Before departing the US on Thursday, visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Council of Foreign Relations in New York that if it were up to him, a peace deal with the Palestinians could be signed by the end of 2011.
Netanyahu explained to the high-level gathering that all core issues could be settled in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but added that the PA must do its part as well by not demanding such preconditions to talks as a total settlements freeze.
“You can’t go out on a trapeze, hold out your hand and not have a partner on the other side,” he quipped. “Nobody’s going to deliver an agreement or a settlement from the outset. If they’re waiting for that, I think that’s a big mistake. We’re prepared to talk about everything.”
Netanyahu added that although he had taken the unprecedented step of freezing new housing starts in West Bank settlements, “so far seven months have passed and they [the Palestinians] haven't come in." The comments were taken to mean he may not renew the settlement freeze when its ten-month term expires in late September, at least not along the same lines.
Earlier, Netanyahu told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that he assured President Barack Obama in their White House meeting on Tuesday that, “We don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We want to make sure that they have their own independent, dignified life, but that they don’t threaten the State of Israel.”
He added that Israel had made mistakes in the past under US pressure and could ill afford to make more. “Strike one was withdrawal from Lebanon. Strike two, withdrawal from Gaza,” Netanyahu said. “We cannot have a strike three.”
Netanyahu also addressed the Iranian nuclear threat and the global campaign against the legitimacy of the Jewish state. “The Jews will no longer be passive victims of history. We are now actors on the stage of history. We now chart our own collective destiny,” he insisted.
Netanyahu returned home on Friday and is expected to implement soon a series of confidence building measures towards the Palestinian Authority being drawn up by the Defense Ministry. The steps are expected to include releasing Palestinian prisoners, lifting roadblocks and transferring security in areas that have been quiet for a long period of time to the PA police. It was not clear if the gestures would be made in order to entice the PA to enter direct negotiations or to reward them after direct negotiations have begun.
Meantime, the PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Friday accused Israel of pressuring the Palestinians into joining direct talks without meeting the basic condition for moving forward, freezing the expansion of settlements, Army Radio reported. "The keys are in Netanyahu's hands. The talks will continue the moment he agrees to freeze building in the settlements," said Erekat.
Senior Palestinian officials also told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper on Friday that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas “wants American and Israeli guarantees [before joining direct talks] so that the goal of the conversations will be clear." The guarantees the officials mentioned included, "the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the lands captured in the 1967 war and small territory exchanges to solve the problem of the settlements."