PEACE AT LAST?

PALESTINE - Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will for the first time endorse the establishment of a demilitarised Palestinian state in a keynote address, a senior aide said yesterday.

PALESTINE - Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will for the first time endorse the establishment of a demilitarised Palestinian state in a keynote address, a senior aide said yesterday.

"Netanyahu is going to call for a demilitarised Palestinian state living side by side with the Jewish state," Nir Hefez, a senior adviser to the premier, said.

"He'll give two conditions for a Palestinian state," Hefez said.

"One is demilitarisation with international, especially US, guarantees given to Israel on the demilitarisation of the state."

"The second point is Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel as a national home of the Jewish people," he said, referring to a previous Israeli demand that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has already rejected.

Although Washington wants him to endorse creating a Palestinian state and stop all settlement activity, the hawkish premier is unlikely to cede to demands that could topple his largely right-wing coalition government, commentators said.

US president Barack Obama's administration has pledged to vigorously pursue peacemaking in the Middle East based on a two-state solution, the cornerstone of international efforts to end the decades-old conflict.

Public radio said Netanyahu will instead reiterate his support for the 2003 international "roadmap" plan which foresees the creation of a Palestinian state after a series of steps taken by both Israelis and Palestinians.

And the liberal Haaretz daily quoted unnamed officials close to Netanyahu as saying the speech would focus on arch-foe Iran in the wake of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed election victory on Friday.

The speech is seen in Israel as a response to Obama's address to the Muslim world 10 days ago.

In the speech he reiterated Washington's "unbreakable" bond with Israel but also said the Palestinian situation was "intolerable".

It was the latest in a series of blunt words to Israel from Obama's administration that have raised fears in the Jewish state that Washington may ease its support as it tries to improve its relations with the Muslim world. - Sapa-AFP

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