Pressure mounts for Netanyahu peace plan

AFP , Sunday 24 Apr 2011

Unless Israel puts forward its own plan for peace, it could have one imposed on it, warns Israeli President Shimon Peres

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is under mounting pressure to present his own peace plan rather than be faced with an imposed solution or the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

President Shimon Peres, Israel's elder statesman and a Nobel Peace laureate, is the latest to add his voice to the growing chorus, urging Netanyahu to act before events overtake him.

"If we don't want foreign plans, the best way would be to [put forward] a plan of our own, and if we do that, others won't go ahead with theirs," Peres said Friday.

Peres was responding to reports indicating that US President Barack Obama was preparing to lay out his own vision for a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

First reported in The New York Times, it said the vision "could include four principles, or terms of reference ... [which] could call for Israel to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders".

It also suggested the Palestinians could have to forgo the right of return, that Jerusalem would be the capital of both states, and would also include principles safeguarding Israel's security.

Netanyahu has said he will deliver a policy speech to the US Congress in late May, where he is expected to present his plan.

But it's not just the fear of being pre-empted by Obama and a settlement imposed by the United States that is spurring calls for immediate and far reaching action. Following the breakdown of direct talks last September, the Palestinians have adopted a diplomatic strategy aimed at securing UN recognition of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.

The move is expected to take place in September, when the UN General Assembly holds its annual meeting. The Palestinians have already won recognition from several South American nations and on Thursday France said European nations were also considering recognising a Palestinian state.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine is one of the options which France is considering, with its European partners, in a bid to relaunch the peace process," French ambassador Gerard Araud told a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, one of Netanyahu's closest allies, has warned that Israel faced "a diplomatic tsunami". "There is an international movement for the recognition of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders," Barak said, warning that only an Israeli "diplomatic initiative" could limit the risks to Israel.

Adding to international pressure on Israel is turmoil in the region churned up by the "Arab Spring". "The Europeans in particular are constantly telling us that Israel must make concessions to meet the wave of protests in Arab countries and restart negotiations with the Palestinians, as if the two cases were linked," a senior Israel official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"In fact, these movements differ from country to country and should rather encourage us to be cautious and wait to see what happens," said the official.

Netanyahu is likely to continue with the cautious approach. The Israeli leader has so far rejected dividing Jerusalem, wants to hold on to all major Israeli settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank and to keep Israeli troops on the West Bank's eastern border with Jordan.

This, he argues, will prevent the West Bank turning into a base for Iranian supplied missiles.

But Israeli officials concede this is unlikely to lure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. "I don't see them coming back to the negotiating table. Their strategy is that they don't want to negotiate, so you can't force them," Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told AFP last week.

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