Israel "Finally" Coming Around "Grudgingly" to Palestinian State

In Monday's "Memo from Jerusalem," Isabel Kershner reported that "Netanyahu's Talk of Peace Finds Few True Believers."

Kershner'sreporting is usually hostile toward conservatives in Israel, and in this story about conservative Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's moves toward a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, one can almost picture Kershner rolling her eyes atNetanyahu for taking so long to "finally accept," in "grudging" fashion, a Palestinian state.

In the weeks since Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, finally accepted the principle of a Palestinian state, with qualifications, there has been deep skepticism about his sincerity.

On the Palestinian side, aides to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, have called Mr. Netanyahu's grudging endorsement of Palestinian statehood, under international pressure, a disingenuous public relations exercise.

But even senior officials and prominent figures of his conservative Likud Party have been busy explaining, privately and publicly, why they think there is not likely to be a Palestinian state any time soon, in ways that raise even more questions about the current government's commitment to reaching a final peace accord.

And Mr. Netanyahu's diplomatic turnaround was greeted by a notable silence among the Likud firebrands and hawks, widely interpreted here as a sign that they feel they have nothing to fear.

Marking his first 100 days in office earlier this month, Mr. Netanyahu credited his government with bringing about national consensus on "the idea of two states for two peoples," employing the language of the internationally accepted formula for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the first time. Last Sunday he called on the Palestinian leadership to meet for peace talks.

Mr. Netanyahu has been explicit, though, about his conditions for a deal. He says the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Palestinian negotiators reject such recognition, contending it would preclude the demand of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants for the right of return to their former homes, and be detrimental to the status of Israel's Arab minority.

The story comes with a photo of the liberal-loathed "separation barrier" in the West Bank, being built to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian terrorists, a wall that a story by the paper's former Jerusalem bureau chief likened to "wallpaper" for Palestinian prisoners.

Kershner took Israel's concerns lightly and dismissively, and won't even call Yasir Arafat a terrorist, but merely someone who "many Israelis" view as a terrorist.

It is a familiar refrain: For years, leaders from the Likud Party refused to negotiate on grounds that Yasir Arafat, the strongman of Palestinian nationalism who many Israelis viewed as a dictatorial terrorist, was no partner for peace. Now his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the Western-backed Palestinian president who has shunned violence against Israelis, is held in disregard for being domestically weak.

The Israeli leaders note that Mr. Abbas does not control Gaza, which was taken over by his Hamas rivals two years ago. They add that it is doubtful how much he controls what they call Judea and Samaria, the biblical name for the West Bank, and say that if the Israeli Army were to leave the area it could turn into another "Hamastan."


But Mr. Netanyahu's father, Benzion Netanyahu, the 100-year-old historian and staunch right-wing ideologue, told Israel's Channel 2 News on July 8 that his son had set conditions he knew the Palestinians would never be able to accept.

Whatever the prime minister's real intentions, those around him harbor low expectations of the chances for peace. Dan Meridor, deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence and atomic energy, and a leading pragmatist of Likud, recently told reporters that it was an "open question" whether the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank was ready to take the "minimum steps needed" to meet Israeli requirements for an end-of-conflict agreement.