Obama and Palestinian State
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Visits 456
June 03, 2011
The Palestinians have given up on negotiations and instead are campaigning to raise the issue of recognition of a Palestinian state in the United Nation General Assembly in September. There is overwhelming support for Palestinian state and the efforts are likely to succeed, but it will only be a symbolic victory as – “it would not create an independent state”.
Upon assumption of presidency, President Obama, in his policy statement on the Middle East, declared that securing peace in the region would be his administration’s first priority, and efforts would be directed towards creation of a Palestinian state on the occupied lands living in peace with Israel. Obama explained that the salient feature of the policy of his administration was total freeze on Jewish settlements on the occupied lands. However, Netanyahu doggedly refused to put any further “freeze” on settlement activity with the result that talks never got off the ground.

In the epochal speech on June 4, 2008, in Cairo, Obama made an eloquent articulation of his vision of Middle East: “It is undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years, they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt. The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security”.

The peace negotiations, however, remained stalled. Obama’s special Middle East envoy George Mitchel also resigned in frustration. The revolutionary waves sweeping across the region and the obvious implication of Arab Spring in the fall of Mubarak, the lynch pin of US policy in the Middle East compelled Obama to revive peace effort in Middle East, recognizing that “it is time when the people of Middle East and North Africa are costing of the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolve all claims is more urgent than ever.” Accordingly, President Obama on May 19 gave expression to his Middle East Policy, and for the first time, publicly called for the creation of a non-militarised Palestinian state on the basis of Israel’s borders before 1967.

“The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine,” said the US president while emphasizing the need for talks to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarised state,” he added.

President Obama said he was proposing the creation of a Palestinian state because he believed that “no peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away”. Obama reiterated that a future Palestinian state must be based in territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, with minor adjustments reached through negotiations. “For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them”.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s initial reaction was furious. There would be no withdrawal to the “indefensible” 1967 borders. He said a Palestinian state should not be established at “the expense of Israel’s existence”.

Netanyahu arrived in Washington on 20th May, and prior to his departure, in an official statement, Israeli government stated: “Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US commitments made to Israel in 2004—among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centres in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines”.

Netanyahu had a two-hour long meeting with Obama, and later addressed a joint session of US Congress comprising an enthusiastic crowed of pro-Israel congressmen. Netanyahu made an impassioned speech rejecting Obama’s peace plan. He declared: “I stood before my people and said that I will accept a Palestinian state; it’s time for President Abbas to stand up before his people and say, I will accept a Jewish state”. “Those six words will change history”. “With those six words, the Israeli people will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise”.

Of course, those words have been the most intractable part of the negotiation since 1979. Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and across the Palestinian diaspora want a right of return to the homes they left, or were forced to leave, in Israel in 1948. But Israeli government maintains that a flood of refugees would mean more Arabs than Jews in Israel, and could threaten Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state. Netanyahu did not only deny Palestinian rights to return, but on the other core issue of Jerusalem, he was equally unbending. “Jerusalem will never again be divided”, he said, and added that Israel’s 1967 borders were not defensible. He said new boundaries would need to incorporate large blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and that any peace deal would have to include an Israeli Army presence along the Jordan River.

Netanyahu further qualified that Israel will not negotiate with the Palestinians until Mr. Abbas abandons the recently negotiated unity agreement between his Fatah party and Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls the Gaza strip and has refused to accept Israel’s right to exist. His reference was to the unity accord signed between Palestinian groups on May 4 in Cairo.

The Arab awakening and pro-democracy revolutionary fervor sweeping across the Arab world has had a deep impact on the Palestinians too. The winds of change blowing across the region have revived the ambers of deep-seated desire for unity in the Palestinian hearts. This led to a comprehensive unity accord signed in Cairo on May 4th.

Representatives of 13 factions including Fatah and Hamas signed this reconciliation deal. The historic accord marks a diplomatic coup and offers an upbeat scenario for an independent Palestinian state, the prospects for which were clouded as a result of the September 2010 peace talks failing to reach agreement on the settlement issue. Under the deal, Hamas and Fatah will form an interim government “composed of independent figures that would start preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections” likely to be held by the end of this year. The accord also envisages creation of an elected tribunal and for the release of prisoners held by feuding movements in the West Bank and Gaza. A Higher Security Council (HSC) shall be established comprising of representatives of the Fatah and Hamas security forces to create a professional security force.

The unity accord has understandably deeply disappointed the U.S. and Israel. It constitutes a major setback to U.S. diplomacy in the region where its influence is already at the lowest ebb. Netanyahu has dubbed it as “a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism.” He expressed his fierce opposition to ‘militant’ Hamas having any role in a caretaker government to be formed by Abbas.

President Obama, in a conciliatory gesture to Israel, joined Netanyahu in opposition to Palestine unity, saying it has raised a “profound and legitimate question to Israel. How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” he said, referring to Hamas, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization. “In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question”. “Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection and Palestinian will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.”

The Palestinians have given up on negotiations and instead are campaigning to raise the issue of recognition of a Palestinian state in the United Nation General Assembly in September. There is overwhelming support for Palestinian state and the efforts are likely to succeed, but it will only be a symbolic victory as – “it would not create an independent state”.

As a matter of fact, Obama has failed to display determinant leadership in the face of Netanyahu opposition and with US presidential elections looming large, Obama is not likely to pursue his vision of peace in Middle East. The Palestinian state would continue to elude the Palestinian.

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