Video: Palestine Latest - Settlements and Blockades but No Reconstruction
Video and Full Transcript of Obama-Abbas Meeting(28 May)
At his meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, President Obama again highlighted the significance of an Israeli freeze on settlements in the West Bank. Obama did not mention any timeline for his demand being accepted by the Israeli authorities, indicating that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed time to persuade his Cabinet; however, he also did not want his position to be seen as weak and passive. So Obama stated that he would not wait until the end of his first term to make progress; if is no action on the Israeli side, US pressure is likely to be applied on Tel Aviv. Obama also stated his general hope for a settlement “if they (Israel and Palestine) keep in mind not just the short-term tactical issues that are involved, but the long-term strategic interests of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security".
Mahmoud Abbas, however, does not have the luxury of general aspirations and time: every passing hour undermines his authority.
Abbas acted fast to form a new government last week after the failure to form a unity administration between Fatah and Hamas. Abbas wanted to strengthen his hand before his visit to Washington; however, the new government was rejected not only by Hamas but also by many in Fatah and by several other Palestinian factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian People's Party amidst accusations of nepotism, cronyism, and lack of accountability or transparency.
In Gaza, Hamas has been increasing its support since the end of Israel's Operation Cast Lead. So Abbas needs the symbolic as well as practical support offered by the popularity of President Obama. That is why the Palestinian politician told Jackson Diehl and Fred Hiatt, in his audience with [italics]The Washington Post[/italics]:
The Americans are the leaders of the world; they can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, "You have to comply with the conditions."
But, even if Obama is happy to be Abbas' saviour, there's the small matter of the Israeli dynamic. Even if Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to freeze settlements, he might be have trouble convincing 30 Ministers in his Cabinet. Nor is Obama's "more time" likely to alter the situation, with the Israeli public becoming more intransigent as time goes by.
For the time being, the Netanyahu Government is trying to fudge the issue. The Prime Minister Netanyahu has already stated that there would be no freeze in current settlements, but new settlements would not be authorised and illegal outposts would not be tolerated. Rhetorically, however, Netanyahu's ministers are dismissing the issue. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon told Israel's Channel 2, “Settlements are not the reason that the peace process is failing, they were never an obstacle, not at any stage."
Netanyahu may not have staked himself to the rhetoric of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: “Peace for Peace” without any preconditions. Yet it is difficult to see what Tel Aviv is willing to offer, especially when Arab states backing the peace initiative have declared that they are ready to recognise Israel.
Thus Obama, less than a week before his Cairo speech, still has nothing --- not even a modest Israeli concession --- to anchor his general wishes for peace. Stiil, in comparison to others, he might be considered fortunate. For Mahmoud Abbas does not even have the trappings of authority as the non-peace process drags on.