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The Ball is in the Air - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The American and European response to the speech made on Sunday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he gave his opinion on the peace plan and the Palestinian state project was one of cautious optimism.

The American and European statements were concise and cautious, Washington said that “the President welcomes this important step forward” and that “there is a long way to go” towards achieving peace. While the Europeans described the speech as “a step in the right direction” but said that it included “a number of other elements which need to be analyzed.”

Some of the Arabs fell into the trap set for them by the Israeli Prime Minister in his speech; their reactions was that of alarm, while other responses to the speech were premature, particularly from a number of the Palestinians.

The fundamental point here is that Netanyahu’s speech was not directed at the Arabs, but rather [this speech] is a response to the demands that President Obama made in Cairo, from putting a halt to settlement building to recognizing an independent Palestinian state.

What is new in Netanyahu’s speech was his talk of an independent Palestinian state, whereas the rest of the speech contained nothing new with regards to preconditions, and the Arab position on these are clear and well known to the Israelis, the US – who will be acting as an intermediary – and even to the Europeans.

Therefore it is important that the Arabs do not fall into the Israeli trap, or invite confrontation by responding to Netanyahu as this speech is addressed to Obama, not the Arabs, especially when the Israelis themselves are saying that in the event of continued US pressure on Israel Netanyahu’s government may not survive 6 months.

Therefore the Israeli Prime Minister is attempting to maneuver and grant concessions in response to unworkable requirements in the hope that the Arab response will aid him, enabling him to tell the US President “I have offered you concessions, while the Arabs have offered you nothing but intransigence.”

This is not a secret, and many of the Israelis have suggested that Israel must grant some concessions and wait for the Arab position that will destroy Obama’s [peace] project, thereby avoiding a confrontation with Washington. .

Following Netanyahu’s announcement supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister said that “the ball is now in play” which means that the ball is now in the Arab’s court.

The fact of the matter is that Netanyahu has thrown the ball into the air, and the real fear comes from the Arabs kicking this ball out of play in an undisciplined manner, thereby colliding with the Americans and Europeans, which is precisely what Netanyahu wants to happen.

Therefore the Arabs must pay attention to two essential points; firstly, the White House statement responding to Netanyahu’s speech said that Obama is “committed to two states; a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state. This talk of a Jewish state of Israel is in line with the Israeli demands.

The other issue is that Netanyahu’s acceptance of a Palestinian state is a good thing, but it comes with impossible preconditions. It is important and essential for the Arabs to avoid the front-lines [of a confrontation with the US], and instead raise US pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister.

Washington’s response suggests that the Americans were not taken in by the [political] trickery in Netanyahu’s speech, despite his acceptance of the Palestinian state.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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