Netanyahu seeks British backing for Palestinian deal

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The Independent Online
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, flies to London tomorrow for talks with Tony Blair in what must feel like the calm between two storms.

He was immersed last night in a conflict between his Likud MPs and the rank and file about the way they select parliamentary candidates. The 3,000 conference delegates want the final say. MPs and ministers fear that Mr Netanyahu will use a conference of yes-men to eliminate dissent. They prefer American-style primaries.

Next week, Mr Netanyahu goes on to the United States, where he faces a showdown over legislation that would permit only Orthodox rabbis to carry out conversions in Israel. American Jews, 80 per cent of whom are Reform or Conservative, denounce this as delegitimising their Judaism.

In London, Mr Netanyahu will try to convince the Government to back his proposal for negotiating a final settlement with the Palestinians straight away, rather than lumbering through a series of interim stages. "The more we linger and delay in getting to this fast-track negotiation ... the longer we'll delay the peace," he said yesterday.

This idea has been roundly rejected by the Palestinians, the Americans and moderate Arab states. They suspect that Mr Netanyahu will use it as a device for putting off painful decisions about the future of the occupied territories.

Amnesty International has called for the British government to raise with Mr Netanyahu the issue of torture of detainees - described by Israel as the use of "moderate physical pressure". In a letter to Tony Blair, Amnesty also expresses concern about a draft law, now before the Knesset, which would outlaw the right to compensation if civilians are killed or injured by the Israeli defence forces.