Leading article: We should welcome this small, significant move by Israel

The US must build on Mr Netanyahu's acceptance of a Palestinian state

Share
Related Topics

Benjamin Netanyahu's long-awaited speech last night was always going to be a tough call and an exercise in judicious phraseology. Under enormous pressure to respond to Barack Obama's Cairo address of 4 June, when the US President told Israel to halt all settlement expansion and recognise a Palestinian state, Israel's Prime Minister faced a dilemma. Either he risked alienating the US by accepting the Obama vision of a Middle East peace, or he faced breaking up his fragile right-wing coalition, most of whose component parts are wedded to further growth of West Bank settlements.

Mr Netanyahu, predictably, sought a middle way, possibly hoping that the offer of opaque-looking, theoretical concessions on Palestinian statehood meant he could avoid having to take action on the more practical issue of settlement expansion. Here the Israeli leader gave no concession, hailing the settlers as "pioneers" and maintaining that preventing the existing settlements' growth would be inhumane.

He also laid down a long list of very hefty conditions before Israel could even countenance a future Palestinian state; that this state would have to be entirely demilitarised; that the Palestinians would have first to "unambiguously recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people", and that they also surrender their claim to a capital in east Jerusalem.

That Mr Netanyahu should recognise the future right of a Palestinian state to exist in any form at all, is, of course, progress of sorts. Hitherto, the leader of the right-wing Likud party had rejected any such notion, even in theory, insisting that Palestinian grievances should be addressed primarily through the improvement of their economic prospects.

Thus, a change in vocabulary has taken place, even if it has been wrung out of him by Israel's pressing need not to alienate the White House by appearing indifferent to President Obama's drive for a permanent Middle East peace.

Yet, many – not only in the Arab world – will wonder whether this apparent conversion on Mr Netanyahu's part is heartfelt or a tactic – a verbal concession made in the confidence that the Palestinians will never agree to write off their own history by recognising Israel as a specifically Jewish nation state and will never abandon their claim to east Jerusalem.

It is, indeed, hard to imagine even the moderate Palestinians clustered around Mahmoud Abbas surrendering either their claim to Jerusalem, or the Palestinian refugee's right of return, for the shadowy promise of a state whose future frontiers are still unknown and which will presumably lie well within the old 1967 border. Thus far, judging by his hostile remarks last night, Mr Abbas looks unimpressed.

Nevertheless, a door has been opened, albeit cautiously, and the onus now lies on Washington to ensure Israel spells out more precisely what it is offering the Palestinians - and when.

It was never on the cards that Mr Netanyahu would dump a lifetime's ideological commitment to the settler movement, overnight. No doubt he would face political annihilation were he to do so. Mr Obama has to persuade the Palestinians not to voice their disappointment in his address in too shrill a tone. Though they might not see it that way, the Israeli leader has been nudged a fraction in their direction.

Mr Netanyahu's speech was not what they, or we, hoped for, but his apparent acceptance of a Palestinian state gives something to build on. In bleak times for the Middle East, that is something.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

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

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game