The Washington summit met the goals set for it. It ended with an announcement of the renewal of negotiations to reach an Israeli-Palestinian settlement that will resolve all the core issues and lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. In his speeches in Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed readiness for an historical compromise. "Another people shares this land with us," Netanyahu said, and called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "my partner in peace." He promised that Israel will not enter direct talks to argue, but to end the conflict.
Netanyahu, who in the past sharply opposed the idea of a Palestinian state and saw it as a threat to Israel's existence and security, has changed his approach since he returned to power about a year and a half ago. Now he talks about sovereignty in return for security, a state for the Palestinians in return for strict security arrangements. Netanyahu convinced the leaders of the United States, Egypt and Jordan to sponsor the direct talks, and demonstrated impressive political ability in preserving his coalition intact at a time when he is entering discussions about a withdrawal from the West Bank, the future of the settlements and the status of Jerusalem.
But, as generous as he was with declarations, Netanyahu was short on details, and the doubts regarding the seriousness of his intentions and ability to promote a settlement have yet to dissipate. His opening positions, and his hints that he will propose leaving the settlers in the Palestinian state instead of removing them, raise the suspicion that Netanyahu is looking for ways to extricate Israel from its international isolation, and that is why he pushed for direct talks, though he has yet to grasp the necessary price of compromise with the Palestinians: withdrawal from the West Bank, dividing Jerusalem and evacuating the settlements.
The first test of his intentions and ability will come at the end of the freeze on building in the settlements, in another three weeks. If Netanyahu will give in to the pressure of the settlers and their supporters and renew construction at full steam, it will become clear that he is not capable of promoting the historic compromise that he promised. If the prime minister wants people to believe his declarations in Washington, he must translate them into decisions that he made in Ariel and Emmanuel, and avoid expanding settlements during the talks. That is the necessary conclusion to be drawn from the Washington summit.
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