US President Barack Obama has called for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders in a bid to finally achieve Mideast peace, a premise also supported by the European Union. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly rejected the idea in a speech he gave Tuesday as part of a six-day visit to the US, saying those borders would be "indefensible."
Speaking before a joint meeting of Congress that was interrupted by frequent applause, Netanyahu pledged an unrelenting "quest for peace" and a willingness to make "painful compromises," but rejected going back to 1967 borders or giving land back to Palestinian refugees. He also encouraged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end a power-sharing agreement between his moderate Fatah faction and the militant group Hamas, which does not recognize Israel as a state.
Accustomed to support from the US -- evidenced by the wild applause aroused among Congress members by his speech -- Netanyahu has been dismayed by Obama's proposal to create a Palestinian and Jewish state based on the borders as they existed before the Six Day War in 1967. Netanyahu has also rejected Obama's call to withdraw from the West Bank, saying it might only be possible in the distant future.
Though he may have been well-received by the US Congress, and is likely to be praised back home, the Israeli prime minister's speech sparked heated criticism from abroad. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Netanyahu's rejection of the 1967 borders was both "self-important and arrogant -- especially given that Obama explicitly stated that a variation from the 1967 borders would be possible under a mutual land swap." The prime minister's unrealistic approach was also "deadly" for the peace process, he said.
On Wednesday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Netanyahu "did not say anything that we can build on positively."
Commentators writing in Germany's main newspapers Wednesday agree that Netanyahu's statements would be popular back in Israel, but were heavily critical of a stance they say threatens to destroy a fragile opportunity for peace in the Middle East.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"This so-called peace plan from Benjamin Netanyahu offered nothing substantially new and cemented the old It all remains miles behind the Palestinian demands and also the hopes of US President Barack Obama and the Europeans."
"Netanyahu will be able to credit his six-day US trip as a great success. For someone who doesn't want to change the status quo, he's done everything right. He's defied the US president, flattered the US Congress members, and demonstrated strength while communicating flexibility. He is returning home victorious. He won a propaganda battle, but pushed peace into the distance."
Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:
"The man who spoke in US Congress was Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister. But the speaker was also the strongest opponent of President Barack Obama in recent history."
"A speech with a peace plan was promised. But the speech he gave was one in which pathos accompanied dramatic simplification. The Israeli prime minister sounded very American in order to secure the majority for his vision. The way Congress reacted with enthusiasm makes it clear that Barack Obama won't win the majority for his version of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
"Netanyahu won't move a single iota from his position. He speaks of peace, but without a new plan. And he seems completely unmoved by Obama The US president heard the war cry of a foreign statesman in his own country, and an Israeli at that. One could call that historic."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Benjamin Netanyahu can be happy with his trip to Washington. The US Congress applauded him, he was celebrated by American Jews and the American president bowed before him. Israel's leader did all this without making a single concession. It was a triumph -- if only it wasn't such a tragedy in reality. Because in his unspeakable blindness and arrogance, he is squandering Israel's best chance for real peace."
"What a mistake! Because time is not on Israel's side. If peace talks don't begin soon, the Palestinians will probably proclaim their own state in September when the UN assembly meets, and where they are sure to find many sympathizers The upheaval in the Arab world has added tremendous speed and force to this process."
"Netanyahu has made the American president look like a fool, after he called for a peace agreement based on the 1967 borders. Netanyahu brushed him off in front of rolling cameras -- a stunning spectacle. But can it really be in Israel's interest to weaken its most important ally in this way? Netanyahu had his triumph in Washington, but his country will pay for it in the long run."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"The world will blame Israel as the main culprit if violence escalates again should the Palestinians unilaterally declare their independence this autumn. Whether this blame would be correct or not, a government leader must act in such a situation. The Arab revolutions have made the situation even more urgent and increased the Palestinians' impatience."
"But even before his speech yesterday, Netanyahu willfully squandered this chance Despite his promises and declarations, he apparently wanted to play the blocker and the hardliner. And it served him well -- at least domestically."
"But it's a catastrophe for Israel's foreign policy. Sure, Netanyahu was applauded in Congress, and he thanked Obama repeatedly for his support of Israel. But the audience for his speech and visit weren't just US politicians, who would stand by him anyhow. Instead of an Israeli vision of a peaceful Middle East, once again only the memory of Netanyahu's many refusals will remain in the mind of the global audience."
-- Kristen Allen
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from World section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH