Tension as moment of truth looms


Israel and the United States have agreed over the past two weeks to set out the principles for a peace deal and to try to prevent a unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state at the UN in September.

Recent meetings between the two governments have not managed to paper over all the cracks in what has been, for the past two years, an often tense relationship, but a consensus has been reached over some of the fundamentals of a potential peace plan.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set out part of his position in a speech to the Knesset on Monday, in which he acknowledged that Israel would have to relinquish parts of the West Bank. However, he added that Israel would insist on holding on to the "settlement blocs", a military presence in the Jordan Valley and a united Jerusalem.

"Netanyahu's speech was the result of prior understandings with the US," said a senior aide, "and it is a signal of what he is planning to say in America."

Mr Netanyahu departed yesterday for the US, where he has a busy schedule, beginning with a meeting today with President Obama, followed by speeches next week to AIPAC and Congress.

Mr Obama made his major policy speech last night at the US State Department. That speech was originally of great concern to Israel, amid fears that the President would call on it to allow the foundation of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders.

However, senior Israeli officials received assurances that the speech would deal mainly with the changes in the Arab world and refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a relatively minor way. Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, said on Wednesday that "the US will continue to act to prevent a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence in September."

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