Netanyahu talks as Israel drifts towards war

Hopes to salvage peace process rest on PM's visit to Washington

Israel's right-wing Likud Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, left a deeply troubled nation behind him when he flew to the United States yesterday for separate talks with President Bill Clinton and King Hussein of Jordan designed to salvage the Middle East peace.

Although he was publicly defying international pressure to freeze Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, ordinary Israelis feared that his take-it-or-leave-it treatment of the Palestinians was putting the Oslo process in jeopardy. Clashes persisted on the West Bank at the weekend between stone-throwing Arab youths and Israeli soldiers.

"Many Israelis are worried that we are drifting towards war," a leading pollster, Dr Mina Zemach, told The Independent. A Tel-Aviv University survey published last week found 59 per cent of Israelis rating the chances of war "very high" and 74 per cent afraid that they or their families might be killed or maimed by terrorist attacks.

In advance of his American trip, Mr Netanyahu tried to turn the focus on the Palestinian leadership's alleged "green light" for suicide bombings like that which killed three women in a Tel Aviv cafe on 21 March. He has consistently refused to commit Israel to any quid pro quo, though US and European mediators are convinced that he will have to give the Palestinians something. One of the Prime Minister's senior aides, Danny Naveh, said on Saturday that stopping construction on East Jerusalem's Har Homa site was "not on the agenda".

Addressing a Likud audience last Thursday, Mr Netanyahu warned the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, that if he did not rein in the men of violence, Israel would turn to "other, non-diplomatic alternatives". He is reported to have ordered the army to prepare to invade towns now under Palestinian self-rule if the worst comes to the worst.

Uzi Benziman, a columnist in the daily Ha'aretz, predicted yesterday that sending in the troops would be interpreted by the Muslim world as an act of war. "Has Israeli society really decided that this is what it wants?" Mr Benziman asked. "Has it decided to go to war, and pay the price in blood, because of a quarrel with the Palestinian Authority over a new neighbourhood in Jerusalem, or about the scope of the next phase of redeployment?"

The answer, according to Dr Zemach, seems to be no. "Most of the public (about 60 per cent) want the peace process to continue, even though only 30 per cent feel sure that Yasser Arafat really wants peace," the pollster said. "They believe we are strong enough, and they are ready to pay the price."

An unprecedented 43 per cent were prepared to yield part of Jerusalem to Palestinian autonomy, though opinion was evenly divided over Har Homa.

Thousands of Israelis demonstrated against Mr Netanyahu's policies on Saturday in Tel Aviv's Yitzhak Rabin Square. Recalling Mr Netanyahu's promise of "peace with security", the Labour opposition leader, Shimon Peres, told them: "The peace looks weak and security has been undermined."

The Prime Minister is being widely criticised for lurching from crisis to crisis in a doomed quest to keep his Arab partners and his expansionist constituency happy at the same time. He hoped, for instance, to appease the right, disenchanted by the Hebron redeployment in January, by sending the bulldozers on to Har Homa in February.

"He gets up, licks his finger and tests which way the wind is blowing," said Yaron Ezrahi, a Hebrew University political scientist. "The contradiction is inherent in his mandate. He was elected to continue the peace process and to build settlements, but you cannot implement Oslo and Har Homa simultaneously."

Letters, page 18

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power