Thursday, March 14, 2013

14-Mar-13: President Obama is coming soon. What should he be told before he arrives?

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Associated Press has the low-down on the goals that
will dominate President Barack Obama’s coming visit to Israel, his first as president: (1) Convincing Israel and its leadership he means what he says about stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon, (2) mending a deeply troubled relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and (3) enticing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
One of the most thoughtful (by far) of the Arab voices in this area belongs to Khaled Abu Toameh, a journalist whose writings we have learned to respect over the years. This morning, he posted a list of key aspects of the Palestinian Arab position that American policy advisers ought to have in mind as they spin the media and manage expectations ahead of the arrival in this neighbourhood of President Obama.

This comes from "The Palestinians: Ten Points The U.S. Needs To Consider", posted in the last two hours on the website of the Gatehouse Institute think-tank.
  1. Any agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be rejected by a large number of Palestinians, especially Palestinian refugees who continue to insist on the "right of return" to their former villages inside Israel.
  2. A majority of Arabs and Muslims would also reject a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, especially in wake of the "Arab Spring," which has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of Arab countries. It is hard to see how the ruling Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt, for example, would welcome any peace agreement with the "Zionist entity."
  3. Even if a Palestinian state were established in the West Bank, Hamas and other groups would work to take control of it and, with the help of Iran and Al-Qaeda, turn it into a launching pad for attacking Israel and other neighbors. The Palestinian Authority is in power thanks to the presence of the Israel Defense Force in the West Bank. Ironically, ending Israeli "occupation" would also bring an end to Abbas's rule.
  4. Most Palestinians do not see the US as an honest broker. Any agreement reached under the auspices of the US Administration would be received with utmost suspicion. Already, many Palestinian activists are waging a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to "prevent Obama from desecrating the land of Palestine." The activists have called for "huge demonstrations" in the West Bank to protest against Obama's visit; they are even preparing shoes to throw at his motorcade.
  5. With the exception of Fatah, all Palestinian organizations -- primarily Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- would automatically reject any peace agreement with Israel for various reasons. Some of these groups want to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth, while others believe that Israel would never accept all their demands, such as a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and the release of all Palestinian prisoners.
  6. The Palestinians are divided into two camps not only geographically, but also ideologically. The first is a radical camp that does not want to deliver on any front: it believes that Israel has no right to exist. The second is the less-radical camp, or the "moderates." This second camp is also not able to deliver: it does not have enough control over the Palestinian territories, let alone a mandate from the Palestinians.
  7. Abbas is opposed to the idea of reaching an interim agreement with Israel that would lead to the establishment of a temporary Palestinian state on the parts of the West Bank that are controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
  8. Even the Palestinian Authority appears to be divided into two camps, one headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the second led by Abbas. Tensions between the two have been mounting in wake of the resignation of Palestinian Finance Minister Nabil Qassis. While Abbas has rejected the resignation, Fayyad has accepted it, triggering a crisis with the Palestinian Authority president.
  9. Many Palestinians, including Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership, are opposed to the resumption of peace talks unless Israel releases a significant number of Palestinian prisoners, halts all construction in settlements, as well as east Jerusalem, and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state.
  10. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not have a mandate from his people to reach any agreement with Israel: his term in office expired in January 2009.
He sums it all up with some hard-eyed conclusions:
It is hard to find one Palestinian who believes that US President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the region will lead to a breakthrough in the Middle East "peace process"... "The situation is much more complicated than Obama thinks," remarked a top PA official in a briefing ahead of the US president's visit. "We do not believe we will see any changes on the ground."
We're all in favour of optimism. But we are all too aware of the dangers of drinking the Kool-Aid. Hard and (more) dangerous times seem to be coming to this area; it's not a time for day-dreaming.

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