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Netanyahu speech provokes mix of international reactions

Article published on the 2009-06-15 Latest update 2009-06-15 11:08 TU

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, 14 June 2009(Photo: Reuters)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, 14 June 2009
(Photo: Reuters)

On Monday world leaders weighed in with everything from high praise to fury at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech this weekend conditionally backing a Palestinain state.

The United States appaluded the remarks. President Barack Obama said it was "an important step forward" and that "this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for a viable state." Most commentators believe Israel made its announcement under pressure from the United States.

European leaders were more cautious. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said, "the fact that he uttered the word state is a small step forward." However, he added, "whether what he mentioned can be defined as a state is a subject of some debate."

Netanyahu said he would support a Palestinian state, but only if it were demilitarised and that Palestinians recognised the Jewish character of Israel. He also said a right of return of Palestinian refugees would not be negotiated.

France praised the speech but at the same time called for Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank. "I can only welcome the prospect of a Palestinian state outlined by the new Israeli prime minister," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.

Russia's foreign ministry called the speech "a sign of readiness for dialogue", but "it does not open up the road to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem." The conditions on the Palestinians would be "unacceptable," it said.

Reaction from other Middle Eastern countries was damning. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the proposal "and scuppers the possibilities for peace."

"The call for a modification of the Arab peace initiative to eliminate the right of return will not be accepted by anyone in Egypt or elsewhere," Mubarak said, referring to a 2002 Saudi peace plan. "It hobbles all efforts to save the peace process, in a clear defiance of the US administration," he said.

Syrian state media condemned the speech. Al-Baath, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, wrote that "Netanyahu has confirmed that he rejects the Arab initiative for peace along with all the initiatives and resolutions of the Security Council relative to peace" in the Middle East.

In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, facing protests at home over his claimed election victory this weekend, called the speech "bad news."

Hamas completely rejected Netanyahu's plan."This speech reflects the racist and extremist ideology of Netanyahu and denies all the rights of the Palestinian people," a Hamas spokesperson, Fawzi Barhum, told AFP.