Sunday, March 24, 2013

Obama Snubs Abbas: 'Forget Settlement Freeze'

President Obama, who once championed a settlement freeze, does an about face, paying Abbas back for his intransigence

Obama Tells Palestinians: No Preconditions to Peace Talks
- Matti Friedman

President Obama told Palestinians that he does not support preconditions to peace negotiations. Speaking at a press conference in Ramallah, Obama indicated that Palestinians could not expect an Israeli settlement freeze ahead of talks. If issues were made into preconditions to negotiations, he said, there was "no point in negotiations."

Obama reminded listeners that the U.S. is the Palestinians' biggest donor, and blamed Hamas for "misery" in Gaza. The situation there, he said, came about "because Hamas refuses to renounce violence...because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down than building Palestine up." 
(Times of Israel)

Obama's Visit with Abbas in Ramallah - Jonathan S. Tobin

During President Obama's visit, rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, illustrating not only that the PA didn't control much of what would constitute an independent Palestinian state, but that those who did had no interest in a two-state solution.

The Obama-Abbas press conference struck a very different note from the friendly exchanges that marked the president's appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president was again stating his support for the idea of a Palestinian state, he also pushed back a little bit on Abbas' charade that Israeli settlements were preventing the outbreak of peace.

Obama said that settlements were not the core issue at the heart of the conflict and that if all the other factors dividing the two sides were resolved, settlements would not prevent peace. Even more importantly, he emphasized that there ought to be no preconditions placed by either side before peace negotiations could be resumed. That's a direct shot at Abbas who has refused to talk to the Israelis since 2008 and consistently set conditions for doing so that were merely a thinly veiled excuse for staying away from the table.

Obama's message to Palestinians seems to be more one of "get your act together" than one that offers them hope they can count on the president to hammer the Israelis on their behalf. The lack of a direct demand from Obama for a settlement freeze and the seeming endorsement of Israel's call for resumption of negotiations without preconditions means the Palestinians have been put on notice that the president's second term may not be squandered on further attempts to help a divided people that won't help themselves.

Palestinians Disappointed with Obama - Khaled Abu Toameh

Even before President Obama left Ramallah, PA officials were quick to express disappointment with the result of his talks with President Abbas.
Asked about the PA's future steps in light of Obama's visit, an aide to Abbas said, "We have no choice but to step up popular resistance against Israeli occupation and settlements."   
(Jerusalem Post)

Palestinians Protest Obama Visit - Noah Browning

Palestinian protesters raised their hands and tried to wave away the helicopter that brought U.S. President Barack Obama to Ramallah in the West Bank, accusing him of siding with Israel. Around 150 demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans, saying they wanted weapons not presidential visits.

While the U.S. president received a warm welcome when he arrived in Israel on Wednesday, Palestinians were much colder, clearly angered by his promise of unstinting support for Israel and repeated pledges to guarantee its security needs. Obama laid a wreath on the grave of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, but Palestinian requests for Obama to visit the tomb of former President Yasser Arafat were turned down. In Gaza, dozens of protesters burned U.S. flags and chanted that the president should "get out of Palestine." 

Obama's Israel Visit Leaves Arabs Upset -Ariel Ben Solomon    

The Arab media see the Obama visit to Israel as a reversal of his initial attitude upon beginning his first term in 2009 and his famous outreach to the Muslim world, symbolized by his speech in Cairo that same year.      
(Jerusalem Post)


Obama Aligns U.S. Policy with Israel -Robert Satloff

The main story of President Obama's Middle East trip was his intensive focus on engineering an emotional reset with both the leadership and people of Israel, including an embrace of Israel's founding ideology. The visit also marked a shift in U.S. policy on the requirements for resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The president firmly aligned himself with Israel's position that they should now proceed, immediately and without precondition.

He reiterated that the most effective way to proceed remains a negotiation over the delineation of borders, which he said would resolve the settlements issue. This approach is now likely to dominate U.S. diplomatic efforts, as opposed to focusing on interim arrangements or incremental changes. 
The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

Obama in Israel -Josh Gerstein

Obama's second-term strategy became clear during the trip: express such unqualified, heartfelt love and affection for Israelis and the State of Israel that they trust him to have Israel's back in future peace talks, then coax Palestinians back to the table. Obama warmed the hearts of many Jews by paying tribute to the ideas of Zionism and Jews' historic connection to the Holy Land.

His statements were unequivocal and rejected Arab narratives about Jews and the Jewish state being interlopers

What Really Happened in Jerusalem -Charles Krauthammer, MD

Obama knows that peace talks are going nowhere.

First, because there is no way that Israel can sanely make concessions while its neighborhood is roiling and unstable — the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt, rockets being fired from Gaza, Hezbollah brandishing 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel, civil war raging in Syria with its chemical weapons and rising jihadists, and Iran threatening openly to raze Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Second, peace is going nowhere because Abbas has shown Obama over the past four years that he has no interest in negotiating. Obama’s message to Abbas was blunt: Come to the table without preconditions, i.e., without the excuse of demanding a settlement freeze first.

Obama himself had contributed to this impasse when he imposed that precondition — for the first time ever in the history of Arab-Israeli negotiations — four years ago. And when Israel responded with an equally unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze, Abbas didn’t show up to talk until more than nine months in — then walked out, never to return.

In Ramallah last week, Obama didn’t just address this perennial Palestinian dodge. He demolished the very claim that settlements are the obstacle to peace. Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli security are “the core issue,” he told Abbas. “If we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved.”

Finally. Presidential validation of the screamingly obvious truism: Any peace agreement will produce a Palestinian state with not a single Israeli settlement remaining on its territory. Any settlement on the Palestinian side of whatever border is agreed upon will be demolished. Thus, any peace that reconciles Palestinian statehood with Israeli security automatically resolves the settlement issue. It disappears.

Yes, Obama offered the ritual incantations about settlements being unhelpful. Nothing new here. He could have called them illegal or illegitimate. It wouldn’t have mattered — because Obama officially declared them irrelevant.

Exposing settlements as a mere excuse for the Palestinian refusal to negotiate — that was the news, widely overlooked, coming out of Obama’s trip. It was a breakthrough.

Will it endure? Who knows. But when an American president so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause tells Abbas to stop obstructing peace with that phony settlement excuse, something important has happened. Abbas, unmasked and unhappy, knows this better than anyone.
[Washington Post]

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