Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

A big zero

For most Palestinians, nothing is the result of Barack Obama’s greatly anticipated visit to Israel-Palestine, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem

Al-Ahram Weekly

Prospects for reviving the moribund Middle East peace process look dim following President Obama’s recent visit to the region. The visit, say commentators, achieved very little in terms of tackling some of the fundamental issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such as Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders, a key Palestinian demand, and halting the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian Authority (PA) officials said they expected to see a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within two months. However, one PA official intimated to Al-Ahram Weekly that the resumption of peace talks aimed chiefly to appease the Americans and that it didn’t carry any real promise of a breakthrough.

“I think the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want to be blamed for the stagnation of the political situation. This is the reason President Abbas harbours a certain propensity to resume negotiations with Israel,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Ereikat denied suggestions that the PA was on the way to resuming talks with Israel, even without having the Israel government order a freeze to Jewish settlement activity.

“How can we resume talks without defining their terms of reference? The Israeli government seeks long-term interim solutions, something that President Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation are categorically opposed to.”

However, reliable sources close to Abbas suggest that a “certain formula” is being worked out to enable “both sides to resume peace talks”.

The formula, said the sources, would keep face for the Palestinian side and at the same time enable Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to claim that he successfully resisted Palestinian demands for a settlement freeze.

Nonetheless, the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the PA is not very significant per se. The two sides indulged in intermittent but intensive peace negotiations for 20 years but failed to reach agreement on fundamental issues, including the status of Jerusalem, the settlements, as well as the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland when Israel was created nearly 65 years ago.

The United States and other influential world powers held numerous peace conferences and set up a roadmap for peace in the region, but to no avail as Israel continued to insist that the occupied Palestinian territories were “disputed” rather than occupied.

More to the point, the US proved unable or unwilling to exert meaningful pressure on Israel due to the heavy clout of Jewish and pro-Israeli pressure groups in American politics.


ALLIANCE UNDERLINED: During his visit to Israel, Obama wasted no opportunity to praise the “enduring vigour” of the Hebrew state, ignoring the fact that whatever prosperity Israel managed to achieve was at the expense of the Palestinian people whose land was stolen, rights usurped and freedom denied.

“In this work, the State of Israel will have no greater friend than the United States. The US is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and greatest friend,” said Obama to applause as Israeli and American flags fluttered under clear, sunny skies.

Obama’s sycophantic praise of Israel and its leadership bordered on the absurd when he claimed that both the US and Israel stood together for peace. “There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror and leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is why security must be the centre of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiation,” said Obama in a speech given at the Convention Centre in Jerusalem Thursday.

Obama dutifully ignored Israel’s systematic use of terror against Palestinians and others of the region. But he did note that Israeli settlement expansion was unhelpful. “Israelis must recognise that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable — that real borders will have to be drawn.”

Regardless, Obama’s praise for Israel and the reiteration of America’s commitment to its security at the expense of Arab and Muslim nations in the region were reaffirmed. In fact, during his visit, Obama gave Israel all it could have wanted to hear. He vowed to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, ignoring Israel’s huge nuclear stockpile. He also spoke of Israel’s absolute right to exist without according a similar right to Israel’s victims, the Palestinians.

“Make no mistake: those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist might as well reject the earth beneath and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere,” he said.

In contrast, Obama spoke sparingly and guardedly about Palestinian rights.

Apart from diplomatic statements and usual pleasantries by the PA, the bulk of Palestinian commentators and pundits saw nothing new in Obama’s visit. “I am amused by how much he spoke and how little he said that is new and rational in terms of the diplomatic process and the two-state solution,” said Marwan Bishara, a current affairs commentator.

“Obama embraced the Zionist narrative about Palestine as the historic home of the Jewish people more than any American president that came before him. This rendered Palestinians, the indigenous people of the land, guests in their own homeland.”

Popular Palestinian reactions were generally fraught with disillusionment. One street vendor in Hebron said: “we have been hearing the same lies for 65 years. Obama is a false Messiah and I am not willing to cheapen myself by believing him.”


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