Donald Macintyre: Will Israeli PM's reference to the 'S' word spell peace?

Share
Related Topics

For the first time in his long political career Benjamin Netanyahu managed to say "Palestinian state". That much is a result for Barack Obama, despite the qualifications that came with it.

As the US President most eager since Jimmy Carter to make progress in the Middle East from day one of entering office, he found himself, by a painful historical irony, faced with an Israeli Prime Minister who did not, unlike his three predecessors, even accept a theory the notion of a two-state solution. On this Mr Netanyahu has bowed to the inevitable.

But the US President will have to be a man determined to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty to be satisfied with this. For it was – apart from lavish but very general expressions of support for Mr Obama's desire for a comprehensive regional peace – about all that Mr Netanyahu conceded last night. Palestinian leaders will not, for example, like his ringing promise that Jerusalem would remain the undivided capital of Israel.

The optimists will say that other leaders – like his own defence minister Ehud Barak, who was prime minister at the time of the Camp David summit – said that as well, but then went on to countenance a division. However, what even the most panglossian Middle East watchers in Washington will not be able to dance around is the Israeli Prime Minister's clear rejection of Mr Obama's call for a total halt to settlement construction which the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah – and it seems the Americans – regard as an essential sign of negotiating good faith.

It also remains to be seen whether the language in which Mr Netanyahu cast his supposed conversion to the idea of a Palestinian state will be an obstacle to the early negotiations between the Palestinians' moderate West Bank leadership and Israel that Washington appears to want. So far the Palestinians' approach has been that having long agreed to recognise Israel, they are under no obligation to adhere to another – relatively new – condition, that it must be recognised as a specifically Jewish state.

Mr Netanyahu did not spell out in much detail what his insistence on demilitarisation would mean – for example whether it would leave Israel in control of a future Palestine's eastern border with Jordan. There will certainly be some in his party who will hope that all this will be enough to prevent talks from starting.

A right-wing Israeli government is not, of course, the only obstacle to peace. The deeply dysfunctional split in the Palestinian national movement, which has left Hamas in control of Gaza and Mahmoud Abbas ruling over only the West Bank is another – especially as hopes of real progress in the Egyptian-brokered attempts to reconcile the two factions remain far from realisation. But Mr Obama seems to have staked considerable credibility on the idea that it is still worth having talks between Israel and Mr Abbas, giving Palestinians in Gaza as well as the West Bank a new political horizon to look to.

Mr Netanyahu's embrace, if that is the word, of a Palestinian state takes Israel back to where it was before he took office. The president he is dealing with, however, is very different from George Bush. The question now is whether Barack Obama has the energy and focus – especially with all the other issues pressing in on him – to confront the present Israeli government with the kind of pressure that would force it to see it his way or risk its own demise.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
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'