West Bank – Obama: Palestinians Deserve Independent State, Israel Settlements Activity Not Appropriate

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands at a news conference at the Muqata Presidential Compound in the West Bank City of Ramallah March 21, 2013. REUTERS/Larry DowningWest Bank – President Barack Obama urged Israelis and Palestinians on Thursday to get back to peace talks but offered no new ideas on how they might do so, essentially abandoning his previous support of the Palestinian demand for Israel to halt settlement activity before negotiations resume.

In remarks likely to disappoint, if not infuriate, the Palestinians, Obama said the United States continues to oppose the construction of Jewish housing on land claimed by the Palestinians but stressed that issues of disagreement between the two sides should not be used as an “excuse” to do nothing.

“If the expectation is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there is no point for negotiations, so I think it is important to work through this process even if there are irritants on both sides,” Obama told reporters at a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

“My argument is that even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, maybe engaging in activities that the other side considers to be a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get to an agreement,” he said. “I think we can keep pushing through some of these problems and make sure that we don’t use them as an excuse not to do anything.”

Obama’s comments echoed those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly called for the Palestinians to drop their preconditions for re-launching the stalled peace talks. The U.S. president’s remarks are sure to reinforce deep skepticism among Palestinians about whether Obama is willing or able to use U.S. influence to press Israel into making concessions on a matter Palestinians have identified as a top priority.

Abbas and other Palestinian officials said they would not drop the demand, noting that much of the world considers the settlements to be outright illegal and not merely an impediment to peace talks.

“We require the Israeli government to stop settlements in order to discuss all our issues and their concerns,” Abbas told the news conference, a marquee event during Obama’s brief visit to the West Bank on the second day of his Mideast visit. “It’s the duty of the Israeli government to stop the settlement activities to enable us to talk about the issues in the negotiations.”

During his first four years in office, Obama had sided with the Palestinians on the issue. He and his surrogates repeatedly demanded that all settlement activity cease. However, when Israel reluctantly declared a 10-month moratorium on construction, the Palestinians balked at returning to the table until shortly before it expired and talks foundered shortly thereafter.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in the 1967 war — but are ready for minor adjustments to accommodate some settlements closest to Israel. Since 1967, Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that are now home to 560,000 Israelis — an increase of 60,000 since Obama became president four years ago.

Obama said the U.S. remains opposed to settlements because “we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace.” Still, he added that internal Israeli politics “are complex and I recognize that is not an issue that’s going to be solved immediately. It’s not going to be solved overnight.”

He did say that Palestinians deserve an independent and sovereign state and an end to occupation by Israel. He said the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state of Israel continues to exist if negotiations would restart.

“I absolutely believe that it is still possible, but I think it is very difficult,” Obama said.

Even before Obama spoke with Abbas, several dozen Palestinians in downtown Ramallah protested against perceived strong U.S. bias in favor of Israel.

Obama “should take immediate action to stop settlement activity because the passivity of his position toward settlements is happening while the very last option of a two-state solution is being killed by Israeli settlements,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a leading Palestinian activist.

A day earlier, Obama reaffirmed the unwavering U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and noted there had been no fatal attacks on Israelis last year from the West Bank, which is controlled by Abbas.

That calm has not extended to Gaza, which is run by the militant Islamic Hamas movement, and Obama said it would be helpful if rockets weren’t still being launched into Israel. As Obama began his program Thursday, Israeli police said militants in Gaza had fired two rockets at southern Israel, causing property damage but no injuries.

One of the rockets exploded in the courtyard of a house in the town of Sderot early in the morning, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. The other landed in an open field. Sirens wailed in Sderot shortly after the 7 a.m. rocket attack, forcing residents on their way to work or school to run to bomb shelters.

Obama condemned the action during his news conference with Abbas. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited the border town, which is frequently targeted by rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Over the past decade, Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel, prompting Israel, with considerable U.S. assistance, to develop its Iron Dome missile defense system, which it credits with intercepting hundreds of rockets.

Immediately after his arrival in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured an Iron Dome battery at Ben Gurion International Airport in a vivid display of U.S. security assistance to Israel.

In Jerusalem earlier Thursday, while examining the Dead Sea Scrolls and during a tour of a high tech exhibit, Obama and Netanyahu continued the easy banter that the two leaders displayed on Wednesday. As Netanyahu read a facsimile of a scroll, Obama marveled that the Hebrew language had not changed much over the centuries.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. More of the same claptrap that US Presidents have been spouting since the billionaire Arafat and his thugs took center stage. Since the US really doesn’t have an opinion and needs to keep its oil options and USSR and China corralling in place via its armament tester why don’t they just do the RY head shake and call it a day.

  2. I guess Israel should just hold on for 4 more years till USA hopefully will reelect someone with a little more seichel.
    “Palestinians deserve an independent and sovereign state and an end to occupation by Israel.”

    Deserve? By doing what?

    An end to occupation by Israel?

    So let’s end the occupation of Indian lands in USA and Mexico and give the Indians what they want – half of US land, they still claim it!
    Or maybe they don’t deserve because they didn’t start killing our citizens?
    Or because they didn’t put down US on every public arena?
    Or because they don’t teach their children hatred and terrorism?
    Mr. President – don’t be ridicules!

    By they way, Israel is untitled to ISRAEL’s land more than US to theirs!

    • Sorry president Obama not negotiating with the indians like Mr Netanyahu and every other past Israeli leader to give back the land. Sinai,Ghaza etc.

  3. Obama and I had breakfast this morning in Mamilla and he told us that rockets fired into Israel was unacceptable and counterproductive to peace- to which we all agreed and appluaded him for it. However when asked why building settlements is counterproductive to peace and incited more violence – he didn’t have a real answer. We wished him “Hatzlacha” and at 9:03 they headed to Ramallah.

  4. To #3-Benny”- I’m curious to know which history book taught you that we are “occupying Mexican and Indian lands”? Half of all Indians in the United States have opted to leave the reservations, which were granted to them by peace treaty, by past American administrations. Secondly, the Mexican Government opted to engage in a war with the United States (a very brutal war), from 1846-1848. After it lost, it agreed to give up sovereign control over portions of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, etc. Therefore, where did you acquire the opinion about us occupying their land? On the other hand, it should be noted that even though the Japanese lost the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the USA returned those territories to Japan, and are no longer “occupying” their territory.

    • American History, and not the kind from Harcourt Brace. It is known to historians that 221 treaties between the Indian nations and the US government were unilaterally broken by the US government. The Bureau of Indian Affairs which tracks, yes tracks, Native American movements would disagree vehemently with your assessment that they left reservations, the vast majority of Native Americans are lifers on reservations. The reservation system was not created by a peace treaty, it was created by an Act of Congress and solely to appease homesteaders allowing them to usurp Native American lands “legally”. Mexico, is a different story, the government didn’t engage in a war, the terrorists did and has punishment for not reigning them in and for the desecration of human life at the Alamo, Mexico was forced to cede the lands as compensation.

    • “From 1830 to 1840, between 70,000 and 100,000 American Indians living in the East were forcibly resettled by the US Army. Many others were massacred before they could be persuaded to leave; an unknown number died from disease, exposure, and starvation suffered during the Trail of Tears as well as on other enforced, long-distance marches westward to Indian Territory.”
      For more info look at http://americanindiantah.com/history/nar_entire_content.html
      Or just google “Indians claim their land”

  5. The palestinians have had their own country since I believe the Balfour Declaration. Its called JORDAN. IT was originally part of the British mandate to be made into a Jewish homeland. They gave 2/3s of it to become Jordan.
    The Palestinians will never be happy. Ever. (until they wipe us off the map…)

  6. To Geulah-#10- Regarding Mexico, the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, was not fought by terrorists, but by regular troops of the Mexican Army, of the Republic of Mexico. In fact, Gen. Mariano Arista of the Mexican Army started that war at the Battle of Ft. Texas, in Brownsville, Texas, on May 1, 1846.. Also, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (who commanded the Mexican forces at the Alamo), also offered his services to the Mexican Government. As a result of that war, Mexico agreed to cede portions of a number of American states. Regarding the American Indians, there are over 300 recognized Indian reservations, comprising over 52,000,000 acres in the USA. Many Indians have become very wealthy, because of casinos which are permitted on their land. When President Clinton held a conference of American Indians at the White House, some of the tribes flew in on their private jets! While it was true that many treaties were broken, and the U.S. Cavalry engaged in atrocities, such misdeeds were not a one way street. There were many atrocities committed by the Indians against helpless settlers, too graphic to be mentioned on this site.

  7. They should be offered a PROTECTORATE and noone should expect an independent Palestinian State with the authority to raise an army and issue war bonds. This would be a poor solution and an ongoing problem.

  8. Also, since when do American Presidents speak with a the terrorists in the background?
    Because he is their hero in the West Bank of ISRAEL?
    In Pakistan he will speak with Bin Laden in the background also?

  9. To #15-Benny- Yes, the U.S. Cavalry committed atrocities against the American Indians. However, the Indians also committed atrocities against helpless civilians, including women and children, as well as atrocities against other Indian tribes. Therefore, what point are you making, with rehashing ancient history? In more modern times, former soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces have come forward with accounts of atrocities committed by the IDF, against Egyptian prisoners of war, which occurred during the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War. Also, there has been eyewitness accounts of Egyptian soldiers perpetrating atrcities against helpless Israeli troops (during the Yom Kippur War), who had already surrendered. In Vietnam, American forces perpetrated atrocities against Vietnamese civilians. Unfortunately, war seems to bring out the worst in some soldiers.

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