Political arena atwitter ahead of prime minister's speech
Benjamin Netanyahu to take Bar Ilan University stage at 8 pm, outline political vision in what is considered crucial address. Palestinian official says Netanyahu will probably try to 'hold on to both ends of the stick – appeasing both the Right and the US'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his first major political address since being elected to office and the political arena is duly anxious.
Sunday night will see Netanyahu take the stage at Bar Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center and outline his vision of peace. The premier will speak before several hundred people at 8 pm, in a televised appearance. Heavy security will be deployed in and around Bar Ilan, as both the Right and the Left are set to hold protest rallies outside the auditorium.
The speech was crafted after several deliberations with State officials, including President Shimon Peres, but Jerusalem sources said that the prime minister is unlikely to endorse the two-state solution as a benchmark for continuing the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Girdled by the ministers of his rightist government, Netanyahu is unlikely to voice his support of the two-state solution, nor is he likely to say anything that may be construed as infringing on the settlement movement.
Undoubtedly wanting the speech to be positively viewed by the Obama administration and the international community, Netanyahu is likely to address the need to evacuate illegal West Bank outposts, but he will voice his objection to the US' demand to cease all settlement expansion.
The prime minister is likely to reiterate his demand the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland; and may even go as far as saying that should they do so he will agree to form a Palestinian state – according to the outline stated in the Road Map. Netanyahu is expected to insist Jerusalem remain undivided and under Israel's sovereignty.
He is also expected to address the Iranian threat and its affects on the region, and is likely to use Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory in Friday's presidential elections to Illustrate his concerns of a 'Hamastan' state, which may form in the West Bank. Netanyahu is also likely to address the ramifications of the growing Iranian influence in Lebanon, via Hizbullah.
The prime minister will probably reiterate Israel's wish to achieve unconditional peace with its neighbors, with the help of the moderate Arab nations. Such a statement, if made, will not mean he endorses the Arab Peace Initiative, but rather work off parts of it.
Trying for both ends of the stick?
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is also anxiously waiting for Netanyahu's speech. A Palestinian source told Ynet that "this will probably be a speech showing Netanyahu trying to hold on to both ends of the stick – appeasing the Right and appeasing the US."
The Obama administration, added the source, is still key to any future developments, and anything Netanyahu says "will become irrelevant if the White House says so."
The Palestinian Authority's conditions for a the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have not changes, added the source, and entail the cessation of all settlement expansion and a solution to the status of Jerusalem, but one that must include Palestinian sovereignty – even if a joint one – over the city's holy sites.
The Palestinian Authority, said the source, is well aware that the internal Palestinian strife plays in Netanyahu's advantage, "But we want to hear what his solutions (to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) are. He should leave our internal divisions to us."
Ali Waked contributed to this report