Netanyahu to lobby UK, France over Palestinian state

JERUSALEM, Steve Weizman- When Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu visits Britain and France this week, he will point to a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal as part of his fight to head off UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
Hours before arriving in Britain, Netanyahu called on Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to "completely cancel" the agreement which seeks to end years of bad blood between the secular Fatah movement and its Islamist Hamas rivals.

Netanyahu to lobby UK, France over Palestinian state
The accord, signed on Tuesday, will see the two factions work together to build a transitional government of independent candidates, while leaving the issue of peace negotiations in the hands of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, headed by Abbas.
But Netanyahu will tell his French and British counterparts that Israel cannot negotiate with the agreement in place, pointing in particular to Hamas's outspoken condemnation of the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by US forces on Sunday.
"The agreement between Abu Mazen (Abbas) and Hamas deals a hard blow to the peace process," Netanyahu said shortly before leaving.
"How can we make peace with a government when half of it calls for the destruction of Israel and glorifies the murderous Osama bin Laden?"
Hamas's reference to bin Laden as "a holy warrior" on Tuesday sparked a sharp response from London as well as from the US State Department, which described the Islamists' response as "outrageous."
But in Israel, the comments -- described by one paper as "inconceivable stupidity" on the part of Hamas -- were seen as playing squarely into Netanyahu's hands.
"The response by Hamas, which condemned bin Laden’s assassination, only strengthens Israel’s position and sends the responsibility rolling towards Abu Mazen," a political official told the Israel Hayom newspaper.
Even so, Netanyahu looks set to face a skeptical audience in both London and Paris, with President Nicolas Sarkozy giving the clearest indication yet that France may recognise an independent Palestinian state if peace talks do not resume soon.
"If the peace process is still dead in September, France will face up to its responsibilities on the central question of recognition of a Palestinian state," he said in an interview with L'Express magazine.
Analysts expect British Prime Minister David Cameron, whom Netanyahu will meet on Wednesday, and Sarkozy, whom he meets on Thursday, to listen politely but reserve immediate judgement.
"There's so much going on in the Middle East of real dramatic import that the endless dance of the Israelis and Palestinians is struggling a little bit to get the attention that it once perhaps deserved," said Jonathan Spyer, a political analyst at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre.
Netanyahu has said he will outline a new political initiative when he addresses a joint session of the US Congress in May, but so far he has kept his cards close to his chest.
In the meantime, he is seeking to head off European support for a Palestinian bid to win UN recognition for a state within the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, in a move expected to take place at September's annual General Assembly.
Israel and the United States oppose such a move, saying a Palestinian state can only be achieved through negotiation.
But Britain and France see things differently, with their UN envoys indicating last month they may back the Palestinian campaign as a way to relaunch the peace process.
Spyer sees no breakthrough for Netanyahu on this trip, but he does believe that drawing attention to Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority's new relationship with Hamas -- which is blacklisted by the European Union as a terrorist organisation -- will carry some weight.
"Israel will have a case for saying: 'As long as these guys are on board what do you expect us to do?' That case will be challenged, but the case is makeable," he said.
But the Jerusalem Post suggested that many Europeans would see the unity deal between the rival Palestinian movements as a sign Hamas was moderating its position.
"For months there have been voices proclaiming that ... Hamas can be tamed by being brought into the political tent," diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon wrote at the weekend.
"Rather than be put off, like most Israelis were, by the fact that the PA is on the verge of incorporating into its unity government an organisation calling for Israel's destruction, many in Europe will see this move as an indication that Hamas has become pragmatic and more 'moderate' as a result of the apparent loss of its patron in Syria."

Wednesday, May 4th 2011
Steve Weizman

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