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Netanyahu Backs Plans for Demilitarized Palestinian State

June 15, 2009 at 6:35 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: In a long-awaited speech last night, Israel’s
prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the first time endorsed the creation of
a Palestinian state.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, prime minister, Israel (through
translator): In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples
live freely side by side in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own
flag, its own national anthem, its own government.

MARGARET WARNER: But Netanyahu used his primetime address to
lay down stiff limits on any future Palestinian nation. It must be
demilitarized, he said, and it must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (through translator): If we receive this
guarantee regarding demilitarization and Israel’s
security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish
people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution.

MARGARET WARNER: Recognizing Israel
as a Jewish state contradicts Palestinian demands for the right of return to
lands from which they were ousted at Israel’s founding in 1948.

He also repeated Israel’s
longstanding view that Jerusalem
must remain united under Israeli control. The Palestinians want the eastern
part of the city for their future capital.

The prime minister’s address was partly meant to answer
President Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo
to the Muslim world laying out his approach to restarting the peace process.

But Netanyahu last night firmly rejected a central part in
that proposal: Mr. Obama’s call for an immediate and total freeze on Israeli
settlements on the West Bank.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (through translator): We have no
intention of building new settlements or expropriating additional land for
existing settlements, but there is a need to enable residents to live normal
lives.

MARGARET WARNER: Even that didn’t sit well with some
settlers on the West Bank.

BARUCH MARZEL, settler advocate: We’re here to tell
Netanyahu that he was elected by a majority of people that wanted him to guard
the land of Israel. And if he’ll betray us again,
we’ll take him down again.

MARGARET WARNER: Palestinians liked the speech even less,
though they stopped short of refusing to re-enter peace talks. Their chief
negotiator, Saeb Erakat, said Netanyahu’s conditions would make a viable
Palestinian state impossible.

SAEB EREKAT, chief Palestinian negotiator: We have attempts
to move a peace process which was moving like a turtle in the region. Now
Netanyahu tonight flipped it on it’s back.

MARGARET WARNER: In Gaza, power base of the Islamist group
Hamas, a spokesman said the conditions proved Netanyahu was lying about
desiring peace.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas spokesman: He will never trick us or
our nation, and we will continue to demand our rights and our Palestinian land.

MARGARET WARNER: Arab leaders in the region also rejected
Netanyahu’s proposals and his call for greater ties with them, but Netanyahu’s
speech was met with a mixed reaction in Europe and cautious optimism from the U.S.

Aboard Air Force One today, presidential spokesman Robert
Gibbs called the prime minister’s speech “a big step forward in
acknowledging for the first time the need for a two-state solution. The
president believes that there is a long way to go,” Mr. Gibbs said,
“but is pleased thus far with the progress that’s being made.”