(Updates with Netanyahu quote in seventh paragraph, Ibish comment in ninth paragraph.)
Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet today at the United Nations, while reaffirming positions the Palestinians have rejected as unacceptable for any peace deal.
Israel needs security guarantees ahead of any declaration of Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly, shortly after Abbas, speaking from the same podium, asked the UN to recognize a Palestinian state. Those guarantees must include Israeli being able to maintain a “long-term” military presence in the West Bank, the Israeli leader said.
“Now we’re in the same city, we’re in the same building, so let’s meet here today in the United Nations,” Netanyahu said, addressing his words to the Palestinian leader. “With God’s help, we’ll find the common ground of peace.”
Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas broke new ground in their speeches, underscoring the difficulty of restarting negotiations that collapsed a year ago over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements. Abbas has said Israel must halt such construction before talks resume.
Netanyahu rejected the charge that settlements were a key impediment to peace talks, saying Palestinians had failed to react promptly when his government instituted a 10-month building-freeze in those communities.
Palestinians should recognize Israel as the Jewish state, Netanyahu said, a position rejected by the Palestinians. He called on the Palestinians to give up the “fantasy” of returning to homes in Israel they lost during the 1948 war, a core Palestinian position in past negotiations.
Netanyahu said he had been willing to accept American proposals made by the U.S. in recent weeks to restart peace talks, “even though there were things in those ideas about borders that I didn’t like.”
The Israeli leader received a cooler reception from the General Assembly than Abbas, whose speech was frequently interrupted by applause. Netanyahu criticized the UN, calling it a “theater of the absurd” for the frequency of its declarations criticizing Israel.
“It wasn’t the assured Netanyahu who wowed Congress with his aplomb and mastery,” said Hussein Ibish, senior research fellow with the American Task Force on Palestine, a nonpartisan Washington-based group that advocates a peaceful two-state solution. mastery. It was a defensive and flustered performance that insulted the United Nations by calling it a ‘house of lies,’’’ Ibish said.
Noting media criticism of his government’s policies, Netanyahu said he preferred “bad press than a good eulogy,” adding he would hold fast on positions he deemed critical to Israel’s security.
“Netanyahu catered to the only two audiences he cares about -- Israel and the U.S. -- and his comments will play up to that very well,” said Robert Malley, director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group’s Middle East program, in an interview.
Today’s speeches by Netanyahu and Abbas “underscore just how desperately Israelis and Palestinians need real leadership to get past their grievances and recriminations,” said Americans for Peace Now, a group that advocates a negotiated two-state solution, in an e-mailed statement.
--With assistance from Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow
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