Netanyahu to lobby UK, France over Palestinian state

by Steve Weizman, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 03 2011 03:04 PM | Updated as of May 03 2011 11:04 PM

JERUSALEM - 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.

He believes the unity agreement between the Western-backed Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and the militant Islamic movement which rules Gaza should set international alarm bells ringing.

"The agreement... between Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, and the Fatah movement, must concern not only every Israeli, but all those in the world who aspire to see peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors," Netanyahu said on Sunday.

"Peace is possible only with those who want to live in peace alongside us and not with those who want to destroy us," he said.

He will doubtless also mention Hamas's outspoken condemnation of the killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in Pakistan, in which it called the Al-Qaeda leader "a holy warrior."

Netanyahu called the bin Laden operation a "victory for justice, for freedom and for our common civilization," and is likely to use it as an illustration of the need for a united international front against radical Islam.

He will, however, not be happy with British Foreign Secretary William Hague's cautious welcome of the Fatah-Hamas rapprochement.

"We welcome in principle the reconciliation and the work that Egypt has done," Hague said on Monday in Cairo. "There is still work to be done and we will judge everyone by their actions."

When Netanyahu puts his case to British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday and to French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, analysts expect his hosts to listen politely but reserve immediate judgment.

"They have a lot on their plate in any case with regard to Libya and with regard to Syria," said Jonathan Spyer, research fellow in international relations at the Interdisciplinary Centre near Tel Aviv.

"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 as of right," he told AFP.

Netanyahu says he is is working on a new political initiative but has not revealed details. He is expected to show his hand during a US visit in May when he addresses a joint meeting of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Following the breakdown of direct peace talks last autumn, the Abbas administration ruling the West Bank adopted a diplomatic strategy aimed at securing UN recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinians are expected to seek such recognition at September's annual UN General Assembly.

Israel and the United States oppose such a move, arguing a real solution can only be reached through negotiations, and the Israeli leadership is seeking to build international opposition to head off the attempt.

Last month, however, the French and British UN envoys indicated that their governments would consider backing 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 Netanyahu's argument against giving any diplomatic credence to Hamas -- defined by the European Union as a terrorist organization -- 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, I think, even in the European context."

Writing in the weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post, diplomatic analyst Herb Keinon took a different view.

"For months there have been voices in the EU calling for engagement with Hamas; voices proclaiming that peace is made with enemies; that Hamas can be tamed by being brought into the political tent... that no agreement is possible without the Islamic organisation.

"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 organization 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," he added.

The surprise deal, announced last week after 18 months of fruitless talks, will see the two parties form an interim government of politicians chosen by both sides but regarded as politically independent.