Israel ‘Deaf’ to Two-State Solution

US calls for a two-state solution "fell on deaf ears", the Palestinians’ chief negotiator with Israel has said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, the day after the first official meeting between Barack Obama, the US president, and Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, Saeb Erekat indicated that Palestinians had low expectations of the outcome.

In their talks in Washington, Obama told Netanyahu to stop expanding Jewish settlements and grasp the "historic opportunity" to make peace with the Palestinians.

"We appreciate very much what Mr. Obama said … [But] I’m sure this fell on deaf ears. Mr. Netanyahu will continue to be in a state of denial," Erekat told Al Jazeera.

"He will not accept the two-state solution, he will not accept agreements signed. He will continue with settlement activities and he thinks he can beat about the bush by more vagueness and linguistics and public relations campaigns."

In four hours of talks with Obama, Netanyahu refused to publicly commit to an independent Palestinian state.

He told Obama that Israel was "ready" to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, which stalled during Israel’s 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, but avoided endorsing the two-state solution.

"If we resume negotiations then I think the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself," Netanyahu said.

Following the meeting, Netanyahu said: "I did not say two states for two peoples."

He also said that Israel did not want to govern the Palestinians.

"We want them to govern themselves [minus] a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel," Netanyau said.

But Erekat rejected this as rhetoric.

"Really, when he [Netanyahu] says that he wants Palestinians to govern themselves by themselves – Mr. Netanyahu I have a question for you: How can I govern myself by myself under your wall, settlements, incursions, assassinations, roadblocks?" he told Al Jazeera.

‘Nothing but Wishes’

Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip, was skeptical of the meeting, saying it offered nothing new.

"The statements by Obama are nothing but wishes on which we do not much count," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said in a statement.

He said that statements by Obama that "are not accompanied by pressure on the Zionist occupation and concrete measures do not reflect a radical change of American policy toward our people".

Sherine Tadross, Al Jazeera’s correspondent reporting from Jerusalem, said that Israel officially remained up beat about the meeting but that the press saw the two leaders as finding little common ground.

"The official line is that it was a very good meeting, that there was a lot of chemistry between the two leaders and there were a lot of common interests expressed … now that is a world apart from how the Israeli press has read the situation," she said.

"Certainly, it seems, the line that is often given to US presidents by Israeli leaders – ‘listen I need more time because domestically I’m not in a situation where I can press my fragile coalition government to dismantle settlements and establish a two state solution’ – was not bought by Obama."

Settlement Concerns

Despite Obama’s call for a halt to settlement building, there were reports that Israel was moving ahead with construction of a new settlement on the east side of the West Bank, where Israeli officials have already issued tenders for housing units in the area.

David Elhaiini, a local Israeli government official, said the timing of the construction was not intended to make a political point as it was initially approved in 2008 by Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The Palestinians say settlements, which the World Court has deemed illegal, could deny them a viable state.

Netanyahu and Obama also discussed the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, which the West and Israel believe is a disguised weapons drive but which Iran says is for purely civilian purposes.

Obama warned that the US was "not going to have talks forever" on the issue, but reinforced his earlier position that he offered an "outstretched hand" to Tehran.

Netanyahu, speaking separately to reporters, insisted that Israel "reserves its right to defend itself".
(Aljazeera and Agencies)

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