“The prime minister is traveling to the United States without a vision and without a plan of action,” Tzipi Livni, the head of the opposition and leader of the centrist Kadima party, told the Israeli parliament Monday. “This government fears taking the initiative, and in practice our fate is sealed by others.”
Netanyahu is expected to visit the White House on Friday, a day after President Obama’s scheduled address on the wave of reform now reshaping the Middle East.
On Tuesday, Obama hosted King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose kingdom has been shaken by some of those demands for democratic reform. Abdullah has urged the Obama administration to do more to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process at a time of historic political change in the region.
Speaking after his Oval Office meeting with Abdullah, Obama said the two leaders agreed that “it’s more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states that are living side by side in peace and security.”
But Netanyahu asserts that, with the Arab world in turmoil, the time is not ripe for significant concessions to the Palestinians that he says could jeopardize Israel’s security.
Outlining his position on a Palestinian state to the legislature, he signaled more flexibility on the issue of borders, implying readiness to cede much of the West Bank while retaining large Israeli settlement blocs. But he insisted on a continued Israeli military presence along the territory’s border with Jordan, full control of Jerusalem and Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state — demands that the Palestinians reject.
Perhaps more telling has been Netanyahu’s portrayal of recent Palestinian moves as reducing the conflict to its existential, intractable core. His message, analysts say, is that with such implacable adversaries, there is not much Israel can do.
Mass protests on Sunday, in which thousands of Palestinians marched on Israel’s borders to mark the anniversary of its creation and their displacement, were part of a struggle to destroy Israel, not to build a state alongside it, Netanyahu told legislators Monday.
“The root of the conflict is not the absence of a Palestinian state,” he said. “The root of the conflict was and remains the refusal to recognize the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu also warned that if the recent Palestinian reconciliation accord between the Fatah and Hamas factions produced a government that included Hamas, a militant Islamist group that refuses to recognize Israel, there would be no peace talks.