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Israelis liked PM speech, but peace still far: poll

From Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s keynote speech on Middle East peace this week received massive support from the Israeli public but they do not think it will further its aim, a poll showed on Tuesday. The survey, published in the Haaretz daily, showed that 71 percent of respondents said they supported Netanyahu’s agreement to endorse a Palestinian state and said it would help ease international pressure on Israel. In his speech, Netanyahu said he would endorse the establishment of such a state but only if Israel received prior international guarantees that the new nation would have no army and only if Palestinians recognised Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians voiced dismay on Monday over Netanyahu’s terms and his failure to halt Jewish settlement expansion but he won guarded approval in Washington and Brussels for at least accepting Palestinian statehood. It was a departure from his previous public refusal — since taking office in March — to back a state for Palestinians. But despite the support, 67 percent of those polled said the words would not help the peace process with the Palestinians and 70 percent said they could not envisage the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state “in the coming years”. “The findings of the poll are clear: When Netanyahu deals with security policy without scaremongering, the public places support in him,” the accompanying article said. Netanyahu’s speech came in answer to U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Arab world earlier this in which he called on Israel to shift his position on Palestinian statehood and freeze all settlement building in the occupied West Bank. Obama said he saw “positive movement” in Netanyahu’s speech and again urged Israel to halt settlement construction. “Both sides are going to have to move in some politically difficult ways in order to achieve what is going to be in the long-term interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians and the international community,” Obama said on Monday. About half of the respondents said the speech would help improve Israel’s image abroad — 52 percent — although 34 percent said it would not help. Palestinians said they were disappointed by Netanyahu’s demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state while 20 percent of the population are Arab, and by his failure to commit to halt Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Netanyahu had “failed to meet the expectations of the international community” and did not commit to obligations outlined in a 2003 U.S.-sponsored “road map” for peace, he said. Netanyahu told the American CBS network on Monday that Israelis could not accept a halt to natural growth in the settlements, although new settlements would not be built. “I said … that we would not build new settlements, that we won’t expropriate additional land for the existing settlements,” Netanyahu said. (Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

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