Netanyahu Opens Up to Palestinian Sovereignty; Policy Speech to Outline Strict Israeli Conditions

Article excerpt


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a major shift, will accept the notion of a Palestinian state - a policy pushed by the Obama administration but resisted until now by Mr. Netanyahu, Israeli officials and Americans briefed on the Israeli leader's thinking said.

The policy reversal, which is expected to go public this weekend, could help restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and allow the Israeli leader to steer a course between Mr. Obama's view and those of his own hawkish base.

The Israeli and American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Times on Thursday that Mr. Netanyahu, in a major speech Sunday, will, however, set Israeli parameters for recognizing Palestinian sovereignty.

The officials said Mr. Netanyahu will emphasize Palestinian obligations under the road map to peace in the Middle East - a three-phase process for negotiations initiated by the George W. Bush administration, which so far has not been followed.

Any discussion of a two-state solution and negotiations on so-called final-status issues - including the borders of a future Palestinian state - would represent a major modification of Mr. Netanyahu's campaign platform in which he promised a bottom up approach to negotiations focusing on economic issues.

The conditions he is expected to put forward include:

* Any Palestinian state must be demilitarized, without an air force, full-fledged army or heavy weapons.

* Palestinians may not sign treaties with powers hostile to Israel.

* A Palestinian state must allow Israeli civilian and military aircraft unfettered access to Palestinian airspace, allow Israel to retain control of the airwaves and to station Israeli troops on a future state's eastern and southern borders.

* Palestinians must accept Israel as a Jewish state, a nod to the hawkish side of Mr. Netanyahu's governing coalition that has raised concerns that the Palestinian Authority, which nominally governs the West Bank, does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The State Department declined to comment on the details of what Mr. Netanyahu is expected to say.

While both Mr. Netanyahu and President Obama have emphasized the need for the wider Arab world to support negotiations by recognizing Israel, the two leaders have clashed over Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu has asserted Israel's right to expand settlements to account for natural growth, meaning the children of nearly a half-million Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have rejected any further settlement construction.

Mr. Obama's special envoy for Arab-Israeli negotiations, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, was in Jerusalem this week to discuss the idea of swapping West Bank land for territory in Israel to allow some settlements to remain within Israel's final borders, according to the BBC.

Among the elements one would expect in the speech would be an emphasis on a demilitarized state; there should be no treaties with hostile states; and it must have open airspace and Israeli control of the electromagnetic spectrum, said an Israeli official who asked not to be named because the speech was still being refined.

Mr. Netanyahu this week began a series of consultations with his political coalition in the run-up to the speech to be given at Bar-Ilan University between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He met with members of his center-right Likud Party in his office Wednesday to explain the speech and told them: There are considerations you aren't aware of.

Aaron Miller, a former Arab-Israeli negotiator for Republican and Democratic administrations, said a Netanyahu endorsement of a two-state solution with conditions is meant to cover Netanyahu politically as he obviously endorses Palestinian statehood through the back door. …