U.N. speech boosts Bibi’s ratings in Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity has climbed in Israel after a hard-hitting speech at the United Nations opposing a Palestinian bid for statehood, an opinion poll showed on Monday.

The right-wing leader’s approval rating rose to 41 percent from 32 percent in a previous poll two months ago when popular protests against rising living costs swept the country, according to a survey in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper.

“Netanyahu has once again proved that all he needs is a good speech to pick him up in the polls,” columnist Yossi Verter wrote in a commentary accompanying the poll, in which 486 people were surveyed on Sunday.

The survey said Netanyahu’s Likud and its right-wing and religious partners in the current governing coalition were on course to win the next Israeli election, not due until 2013.

At the United Nations on Friday, Netanyahu voiced strong opposition to President Mahmoud Abbas’s application for full Palestinian membership in the world body and said peace could be achieved only through negotiations, a position echoed by Washington.

The Palestinian initiative goes on Monday to the Security Council, where it faces a tough battle to win the nine votes needed for recognition.

The United States, whose attempt to broker peace talks collapsed a year ago, has said it will veto the application if necessary.

In his U.N. speech and a series of interviews in the United States, Netanyahu gave no ground to Abbas’s demands for a cessation of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, land captured in a 1967 war that Palestinians want, along with the Gaza Strip, as part of a future state.

He also repeated a call, long rejected by Abbas, for Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Palestinians fear that to do so would be tantamount to giving up in advance any right of return of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to leave their homes in Arab-Israeli wars.


Returning to the West Bank on Sunday to a hero’s welcome, Abbas repeated in a speech to a cheering crowd of thousands that Israeli settlement expansion must stop for peace talks to begin anew.

The deadlock over settlements and the Jewish state recognition issue did not bode well for a proposal by the so-called Quartet of international mediators to start negotiations within a month and aim for a peace deal by the end of 2012.

“Let’s sit down and talk,” Netanyahu said in an interview with the BBC’s Arabic service hours before he returned to Israel from New York on Monday.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh affirmed the Islamist group’s opposition to Abbas’s U.N. bid. Hamas seized the enclave from Fatah forces loyal to Abbas in 2007 and opposed his peace efforts with Israel.

“You establish the state when you liberate (the land),” said Haniyeh. “Liberation first and then sovereignty. States are not built upon U.N. resolutions.”

After extensive coverage of Abbas’s and Netanyahu’s duelling speeches to the U.N. General Assembly, most of Israel’s main newspapers relegated reports about the continued stalemate to inside pages on Monday.

“From a speech about independence to hard reality—he lost honourably,” read a headline in Israel’s popular Maariv daily, referring to Abbas, and his return home “without a state”.

Haaretz, a newspaper highly critical of Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians, said the developments at the United Nations “made clear to Israelis once again that they are walking blindly down a tunnel with no exit”.

In an editorial, the newspaper noted that television newscasts on Friday evening featuring the U.N. speeches—“a key event in the history of the ongoing conflict between the two peoples”—drew only a quarter of Israeli viewers.

But on Saturday half of Israeli television viewers tuned into the concluding episode of the local version of “Master Chef”, Haaretz said, lamenting that, with no peace breakthrough in sight, “most of the public prefers to escape to visions of stuffed meat”.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Kevin Liffey