Analysis: Bibi changed. He really does want a deal

Prime Minister Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu

On the surface nothing significant has changed. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in Washington, stuck to his proven tactic of giving nothing away until he absolutely has to.

President Mahmoud Abbas brought up all the old Palestinian demands, including the right of return. The gulf between the two sides seems as wide as ever. Meanwhile, building in the settlements is set to resume in only two weeks and blow up talks that have barely resumed.

But something has changed.

Israelis who returned from the Washington summit have shed their outer layer of cynicism.

"Bibi has changed. It's hard to explain, but it's there," said one veteran observer. "For the first time it seemed as if he wanted to sit with the Palestinians and reach a deal, not just because the Americans were forcing him."

Something has changed also on the Palestinian side. They didn't rush to criticise Mr Netanyahu as they have in the past. Senior members of Mr Abbas's entourage even denied disparaging comments that appeared in their name in Arab newspapers. Significantly, Mr Abbas received backing not only from the Egyptian president and the Jordanian king, but even from the Arab League secretary general, hardliner Amr Moussa, who encouraged him to push forward with the talks.

There are a thousand things that can derail them. More terror attacks like the one that left four Israelis dead last week will remind the sides that Hamas is breathing down their necks. It is still unclear whether the Palestinians will accept the emerging Israeli formula of resuming building only in east Jerusalem and the "settlement blocs", but not throughout the entire West Bank. But these obstacles can be overcome if the leaders have really turned the corner and are not simply looking for the first excuse to leave the talks.

As for Mr Netanyahu, there was one giveaway in his Washington speech.
It is worth looking at the paragraph in its entirety. It starts with his standard mention of terror but then makes an astonishing admission.

"We left Lebanon, and we got terror. We left Gaza, and we got terror once again. We want to ensure that territory we will concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel - and may I add, also aimed at every one of us sitting on this stage."

There it is: Mr Netanyahu acknowledges a concession and immediately after gives the reason - the fear of Iran.

Maybe this was just a speech, and he did not specify any details of what this territory includes, but it was there. And unlike previous talks, Mr Netanyahu did not rush home to assure the right wing that he was not giving way. Instead he silently attended a Likud ministers' meeting, saying laconically that he would inform them only when decisions needed to be made.

    Last updated: 10:23am, September 8 2010