Israelis agree to Palestine state - in theory

The Netanyahu government is coming to terms with hard reality. Eric Silver reports

Jerusalem - Yesterday's apparent deal between the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not come as an extraordinary bolt from the blue. Last weekend, David Bar-Illan, Mr Netanyahu's chief of planning and communications, said the unsayable. In a remarkably frank interview with the Jerusalem Post, he acquiesced in the creation of a Palestinian state.

It would have to be demilitarised, he insisted. It would not be free to sign a military alliance with the likes of Iran or Iraq. The bottom line was: "I want a state, but I want it to be limited here and there."

Six months ago, Mr Bar-Illan would have denounced such views as heresy. He and his boss have learnt some hard lessons in office. If the interview reflects the Prime Minister's evolving position, it suggests that his government is coming to terms with the reality of a divided land, something which his Likud predecessors, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, never did.

It suggests, however grudgingly, that Mr Netanyahu is braced to continue the Oslo peace programme, in deed as well as in rhetoric. Mr Arafat delayed signing a new deal on an Israeli redeployment from Hebron precisely because he feared the Prime Minister would then say: "Thus far and no farther."

Mr Bar-Illan was not providing a conclusive assurance. There will be hard and ugly bargaining to come, in the remaining stages of the Oslo II interim agreement, more Israeli evacuations, the freeing of Palestinian prisoners, the opening of "safe- passage" routes between Gaza and the West Bank, economic co-operation - and in the more traumatic negotiations for a final settlement of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

There are contrary signals, like the government's pledge to expand Jewish settlement on the West Bank and in the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, though so far these are more talk than action.

But the interview was more than a straw in the wind. Mr Arafat looks like having something to bargain for.

Asked to define Mr Netanyahu's present ideological stand, Mr Bar-Illan told his interviewer that the Prime Minister was no longer a "whole-land- of-Israel" man. "I don't think he feels that there is any chance of the Land of Israel remaining completely under the exclusive rule of Israel," he said.

The next day, Mr Bar-Illan issued a statement distancing Mr Netanyahu from his aide's "private opinion". But the interview has not been repudiated, the chief of planning and communications is still at his post. Israeli commentators have noted, too, that Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud MPs have not yet demanded his head.

Until now Mr Bar-Illan, the former editor of the Jerusalem Post and a close friend of the Prime Minister, has always taken as hard and as pessimistic a line as Mr Netanyahu. The Arabs, and in particular the Palestinians, had not changed their spots - he thundered in dozens of editorials. Their strategic aim was still to kill Jews and destroy the Zionist state.

Aryeh Naor, a former Likud loyalist who served as cabinet secretary under Menachem Begin, then defected to Shimon Peres's peace camp, commented yesterday: "There seems to be an ideological revolution on the right as they are detaching themselves from the Greater-Israel ideology. If Bar-Illan talks this way, this tells you there is a new spirit of the times."

The signs are multiplying almost daily. The National Infrastructure Minister, Ariel Sharon, is backing the call for a national-unity government, or at least for a consensus of ideas, to negotiate a final settlement. The Israelis had to agree, the Likud maverick argued this week, on what they were prepared to give up and on what they would insist on keeping. Mr Sharon, the master settlement-builder of the Seventies and the Eighties, was talking territorial compromise.

At the same time, an informal group of Likud and Labour MPs, led by Michael Eitan and Yossi Beilin, has been meeting regularly to thrash out the terms of such a consensus. Mr Eitan is not a minister, but he is chairman of the coalition caucus. Mr Beilin, a candidate to succeed Mr Peres as Labour party leader, was one of the architects of the Oslo breakthrough.

Likud leaders, it seems, recognise that they cannot go back. They are committed, whether they like it or not, to completing the Oslo peace process. But they feel they can make the necessary painful concessions only with bipartisan support.

They need Labour and the left to outface their own messianic constituency, particularly among the West Bank settlers, who will have to pay the price.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss