Middle East

Palestinians say Netanyahu speech will not bring peace

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Media captionBenjamin Netanyahu: "Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967"

Palestinian officials have dismissed Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress, saying it will not lead to peace.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said the speech merely added obstacles on the road to peace.

Mr Netanyahu had told the US Congress that Israel was "willing to make painful compromises" to achieve peace.

But he rejected US President Barack Obama's call for a peace deal based on pre-1967 borders, plus land swaps.

Mr Abbas said the Israeli prime minister's speech "contained nothing we can build on", adding that if no progress was made towards peace talks by September, the Palestinians would seek UN recognition unilaterally.

"Our first choice is negotiations, but if there is no progress before September we will go to the United Nations," Mr Abbas told the Palestinian Legislative Committee at a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the speech proved Israel could not be a partner for peace in the region.

Mr Erekat said Mr Netanyahu was seeking to "dictate the results" of negotiations before they had begun.

"He dictated that Jerusalem will be undivided, that refugees cannot return, that his army will remain on the borders, that his settlements will be expanded and kept, that he wants Palestine to be demilitarised," Mr Erekat said.

The BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says that the speech shows that the gulf between Mr Netanyahu's view of an acceptable peace deal and that of the Palestinians is as wide as ever.

'Unstable Middle East'

Mr Netanyahu had said Israel would be "generous on the size of the Palestinian state, but very firm on where we put the border with it".

Speaking to a supportive bipartisan audience at the US Capitol in Washington, Mr Netanyahu urged Mr Abbas to "tear up" a recent reconciliation agreement with Islamist party Hamas, which controls Gaza.

He said Israel could not make peace with a faction that did not recognise its right to exist.

But a Hamas spokesman dismissed his remarks.

"The true response to this arrogant speech which denies Palestinian rights should be the complete ending of all negotiation and the implementation of [Palestinian] reconciliation as soon as possible," Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

President Abbas is due to meet leaders of the PLO and his Fatah movement on Wednesday to consider how to pursue an attempt to seek recognition for statehood by the UN in September.

Mr Abbas has said that he would prefer to establish a state through negotiations, and suggested that he is being forced into taking this unilateral step by Israel's refusal to engage.

But President Obama said he would not support such a move, which he said failed to address and resolve fundamental issues with Israel.

Mr Netanyahu said he remained committed to a two-state solution to the conflict, in which an independent Palestinian state sat alongside a Jewish state.

"I'm willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace," he said. "We seek a peace where [the Palestinians] will be neither Israel's subjects nor its citizens."

But he said the future border could not rest at Israel's "indefensible" 1967 lines, because many Israelis now live in suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem beyond Israel's pre-1967 territory.

He said the precise border must be drawn at the negotiating table, but said it would be different from the 1967 border.