US, EU Welcome Netanyahu Speech

The United States and its European allies rushed to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech outlining his policy regarding the long-stalled Mideast peace process.

"[President Barack Obama] welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

"The President is committed to two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine, in the historic homeland of both peoples."

The White House reference to Israel as a "Jewish" state seemed to fall in line with the vision outline by hawkish Israeli premier.

Netanyahu said he would only accept a demilitarized Palestinian state that has no control over its airspace, provided that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

He ruled out the possibility of allowing the return of Palestinian refugees, who fled or were forced to leave their homes when Israel was created on the rubble of Palestine in 1948, is protected by UN resolutions.

Netanyahu insisted that Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) would be the capital of Israel.

He also repeated his rejection to American calls for a total freeze of Jewish settlement activities in the occupied West bank.

The speech and the restrictions imposed by Netanyahu drew fire from US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Netanyahu’s remarks have sabotaged all initiatives, paralyzed all efforts being made and challenges the Palestinian, Arab and American positions," spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said.

Israeli leftist and pro-peace groups said Netanyahu offered nothing but preconditions, dated clichés and negotiations non-starters that dim any real prospects for peace.


European countries also welcomed Netanyahu’s speech, albeit more cautiously.

"In my view it is a step in the right direction," said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

"Of course, there are a number of other elements which need to be analyzed, but the acceptance of the Palestinian state is there."

Heavyweight France echoed the same position.

"I can only welcome the prospect of a Palestinian state outlined by the new Israeli prime minister," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.

"The speech represents a step forward from that point of view."

But Kouchner criticized Netanyahu’s refusal to halt settlement building and urged an end to Israel’s choking siege of Gaza Strip.

"France calls for, along with its European partners as well as the US and the whole international community, an immediate freeze to settlement activity and a reopening of the Gaza Strip."

Though the international community considers all Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian land illegal, Israel has never stopped building them since 1967 and has so far built more than 164 settlements.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Netanyahu’s idea of a Palestinian state was vague.

"The fact that he uttered the word state is a small step forward," he said.

"Whether what he mentioned can be defined as a state is a subject of some debate."


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