4:32am

Tue May 24, 2011
Middle East

Mideast Peace Deal 'Must Leave Israel With Security'

Originally published on Tue May 24, 2011 2:32 am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday. He's promising to lay out a vision for peace with the Palestinians, but there are no signs that Israelis and Palestinians are ready to talk to each other.

On the eve of his appearance before Congress, Netanyahu gave a bit of a preview to more than 10,000 supporters at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby known as AIPAC.

"I intend to speak the unvarnished truth, because now more than ever what we need is clarity," Netanyahu said. "Events in our region are finally opening people's eyes to a simple truth."

Netanyahu had to pause several times as protesters who interrupted him were escorted out.

"The problems of the region are not rooted in Israel," he went on to say.

Peace with the Palestinians, he said, will not be a panacea for the region's troubles. Still, Netanyahu said he plans to outline to Congress what sort of deal Israel could accept.

"It must leave Israel with security, and therefore, Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines," Netanyahu said.

He confronted President Obama with that same argument last week at the White House, after the president said the 1967 lines — with agreed territorial swaps — should be the basis for negotiations.

Former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) says he has been surprised by Netanyahu's public squabble with Obama over that position.

"The prime minister of Israel and the Israeli people may be better served accentuating that in which there is agreement with the United States and working hand in hand with the United States to present some kind of positive option rather than creating what appears to be unnecessary divide," he said.

Wexler, who runs the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, says if the prime minister would offer a new initiative, the U.S. would welcome it with open arms. But the gaps are vast.

At the AIPAC meeting, former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams spoke at a panel on the Palestinians titled "An unwilling partner for peace?"

He opened by stating that the answer to the question, "Does Israel have a partner for peace?" is: "No. Thank you very much."

On the other hand, Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi told reporters in a conference call that Netanyahu has shown that he's no partner for peace.

"Netanyahu is totally out of step with the times, totally out of step with the developments in the region, particularly the new Arab democratization and Arab awakening, and he is trying to hold the whole region back," Ashrawi said.

That sentiment was echoed by protesters inside and outside the AIPAC conference.

Jesse Bacon, with the group Young Jewish and Proud, said Netanyahu's policies are isolating Israel.

"I'm sure he will be cheered and feted and all of that stuff," Bacon says. "But he's increasingly out of step with reality, at an increasingly greater cost — a loss of Israel's image in the world, and real consequences for Palestinians the longer this goes on. The longer they have to wait at checkpoints, the longer they have no democratic rights."

Palestinians plan to go to the United Nations General Assembly in September to try to win diplomatic recognition for an independent state of Palestine.

President Obama is warning the Palestinians against trying to "delegitimize Israel." But he hasn't been able to figure out a way to revive negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

As for the president's recent speeches on the issue, Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress compares them to "a psychologist holding up ink blots in front of a number of different people, trying to draw out and clarify what their views are and what their positions are."

"And actually," Katulis says, "I think if that was the objective, mission accomplished."

Israel's prime minister, he says, is digging in, and Palestinians are looking to the U.N.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Renee Montagne.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And Im Mary Louise Kelly.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has already had an eventful visit to Washington. And today, he speaks before a joint meeting of Congress. He's promised to give his ideas on whats needed for peace with the Palestinians. But so far this trip, he's mainly been laying down red lines.

Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: On the eve of his appearance before Congress, Netanyahu gave a bit of a preview to more than 10,000 supporters at the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC.

Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Israel): I intend to speak the unvarnished truth

(Soundbite of applause)

NETANYAHU: because now, more than ever, what we need is clarity. And events in our region are finally opening people's eyes

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

NETANYAHU: to a simple truth.

KELEMEN: He had to pause several times as protesters who interrupted him were escorted out.

NETANYAHU: The problems of the region are not rooted in Israel.

(Soundbite of cheering)

KELEMEN: Peace with the Palestinians, he said, will not be a panacea for the region's troubles. Still, Netanyahu says he plans to outline to Congress today what sort of deal Israel could accept.

NETANYAHU: It must leave Israel with security and therefore, Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

KELEMEN: He confronted President Obama with that same argument last week at the White House, after the president said that the 1967 lines, with agreed territorial swaps, should be the basis for negotiations.

Former Florida congressman Robert Wexler says he's been surprised by Netanyahu's public squabble with President Obama over that.

Mr. ROBERT WEXLER (President, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace): The prime minister of Israel, and the Israeli people, may be better served accentuating that in which there is agreement with the United States, and working hand-in-hand with the United States to present some kind of positive option, rather than creating what appears to be unnecessary divide.

KELEMEN: Wexler, who runs the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, says if the prime minister would offer a new initiative, the U.S. would welcome it with open arms.

But the gaps are vast. At AIPAC, a former Bush administration official, Elliott Abrams, opened his talk this way at a panel on the Palestinians, titled "An Unwilling Partner for Peace?"

Mr. ELLIOTT ABRAMS (Senior Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations): The answer to the question: Does Israel have a partner for peace? is no. Thank you very much and Ill

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELEMEN: On the other hand Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi told reporters in a conference call that Netanyahu has shown he's no partner for peace.

Dr. HANAN ASHRAWI (Member, Palestinian Legislative Council): Netanyahu is totally out of step with the times, totally out of step with the developments in the region, particularly the new Arab democratization and Arab awakening. And he is trying to hold the whole region back.

(Soundbite of chanting protesters)

Unidentified crowd: (Chanting) Get Israel off U.S. welfare. Get Israel off U.S. welfare.

KELEMEN: That sentiment was echoed by protesters inside and outside the AIPAC conference yesterday. Jesse Bacon is with the group Young, Jewish and Proud, and thinks Netanyahu's policies are isolating Israel.

Mr. JESSE BACON (Member, Young, Jewish and Proud): Im sure he will be cheered and feted, and all of that stuff. But it's increasingly out of step with reality at increasingly greater cost, you know, a loss of Israel's image in the world. And real consequences to Palestinians the longer that it goes on - you know, the longer that they have to wait at checkpoints, the longer that they have no democratic rights.

KELEMEN: Palestinians are planning to go to the United Nations General Assembly in September, to try to win diplomatic recognition for an independent State of Palestine. President Obama is warning the Palestinians against trying to quote, delegitimize Israel. But he hasn't been able to figure out a way to revive negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

As for the president's recent speeches on the issue, Brian Katulis, of the Center for American Progress, describes them this way.

Mr. BRIAN KATULIS (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress): It was kind of like a psychologist holding up ink blots in front of a number of different people, trying to draw out and clarify what their views are, and what their positions are. And I, actually, think if that was the objective, mission accomplished.

KELEMEN: Israel's prime minister, he says, is digging in, and Palestinians are looking to the U.N.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.