Netanyahu's speech prompts anger from Palestinians, praise from the White House

Palestinian negotiator Erekat calls it a 'slap in the face,' while the White House calls the speech 'an important step forward.'

By , Correspondent

The White House praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's endorsement Sunday of a Palestinian state as "an important step forward," giving the Israeli leader a key victory in his attempt to mend a diplomatic rift with the US over the Israeli-Arab peace process.

In Israel, however, the foreign policy speech immediately drew fire from Palestinians and all sides of the Israeli political spectrum. But Mr. Netanyahu appeared to garner enough initial backing to keep his governing coalition out of danger of faltering.

Palestinians not impressed

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Although right-wing ideologues in his coalition assailed the speech as "dangerous" for supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, Palestinians said Netanyahu closed the door for peace talks by ruling out the repatriation of refugees to Israel and by insisting that Jerusalem remain united under Israeli rule.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat assailed the speech as a "slap in the face" to President Obama's recent efforts to bring peace to the region. He called on Arab states to reject Israeli calls for normalization of diplomatic ties until Israel takes concrete steps toward withdrawing from the West Bank and until it supports the Arab peace initiative that calls for a comprehensive peace in return for a full Israeli retreat from the territories it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israel War.

"His speech was deceitful and I call on those who listened to this speech not to be deceived," said Mr. Erekat, who added that Netanyahu would have to wait "1,000 years to find one single Palestinian who accepts his plans."

But Netanyahu's speech seems to have threaded a political needle by keeping both Washington and coalition members happy.

Mixed support from Israelis

Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank said that the prime minister "proved why it was he who was elected to lead the state of Israel," according to the newspaper Haaretz. He praised the speech for "meeting the expectations of the international community" and for Israel's need to "ensure its security for generations."

Yizthak Herzog, a minister from the dovish Labor party, praised the speech because it "lays out a clear path for the political process, which will ultimately lead to the creation of a Palestinian state."

Even settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein breathed a sigh of relief to congratulate Netanyahu on the "high level of Zionism that the prime minister demonstrated. No settlement evacuations were mentioned or a freeze," the Israeli website Ynet reported.

Still, Ariyeh Eldad, a far-right parliament member, said that Netanyahu had conceded his leadership to the "nationalist camp."

"There's no such animal as a 'demilitarized state.' Netanyahu knows well that there's no power in the world that can prevent such a state from arming itself."

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