West Bank – Rare Public Friction Between Obama And Abbas At Joint News Conference

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US President Barack Obama (L) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) speak to the media after a meeting in the Muqata Presidential compound in Ramallah, 21 March 2013. EPA/OLIVER WEIKENWest Bank – President Barack Obama spoke grandly of big picture peacemaking Thursday, but the Palestinians are focused on a specific demand – that Israel freeze settlement building before they’ll return to talks.

Stingingly rebuffed by Obama on this score, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now finds himself at a crossroads: Fold and see his tattered credibility suffer further, or stick to his guns while peace efforts stay frozen and Israel continues to build on the land Palestinians – and Obama himself – want for their state.

Abbas signaled that he’s not changing course, creating a moment of rare public friction between him and Obama at a joint news conference following their meeting Thursday. After Obama said neither side should set terms for renewing negotiations, basically siding with Israel, Abbas pointed out that most of the world deems Israeli settlements illegal.

“We don’t demand anything beyond the international resolutions and it’s the duty of the Israeli government to stop settlement activities to enable us to talk about all issues in the negotiations,” he said.

Abbas also warned that growing numbers of Palestinians are losing faith in the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel because of the encroachment of settlements.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967. Since that war, Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – now home to more than a half million Israelis – that make a partition deal increasingly difficult, some say impossible.

Abbas argues that he cannot negotiate the borders between Israel and a future Palestine while Israel unilaterally determines that line by accelerating settlement construction, particularly in east Jerusalem. Israel disputes the logic of this because it has dismantled settlements in the past.

Now Abbas’ options are becoming more unappealing.

Abbas has been the most unwavering Palestinian advocate of establishing a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel, saying it’s the only path to independence.

If he rejects Obama’s terms, it means negotiations will likely remain frozen, depriving Abbas of a credible political program and, as time goes by, legitimacy.

Abbas was elected in 2005 to a four-year term, but has stayed on because the bitter political split between him and the rival Islamic militant group Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, has prevented new elections.

Two senior Abbas aides provided conflicting interpretations of the Obama-Abbas meeting.

Veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat, gave a more upbeat assessment. He said Obama told Abbas that he remains committed a Palestinian state, considers a peace deal a priority and will send U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to follow up.

Abbas “came out more confident of the possibility of making peace after meeting with the president,” Erekat said, but did not elaborate.

Another adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity because of possible diplomatic repercussions, said Abbas was disappointed in Obama and expects peace efforts to remain paralyzed.

Talks between Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert broke down in 2008. Since then, Abbas and Olmert’s hard-line successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, have been unable to find common ground for resuming them.

Erekat also said Obama told the Palestinian leadership that “Kerry will be really engaged in the next few weeks.”

Top U.S. diplomats have made many shuttle missions in 20 years of intermittent U.S.-led negotiations, but all were ultimately unsuccessful.

Some analysts suggested that the U.S. could try to lure Abbas to talks by persuading Israel to agree to a partial settlement freeze, release Palestinian prisoners or hand more West Bank land to Palestinian control.

But it’s unclear if Israel would be willing to make such gestures, which have been proposed in the past, and if Abbas would consider them sufficient.

Much of Obama’s visit appeared to be aimed at building credibility with ordinary Israelis and convincing them that a deal with the Palestinians is in their interest and still possible, at times bypassing Netanyahu and his political allies.

Speaking to Israeli students Thursday, Obama urged them to imagine themselves in the place of Palestinians and outlined some of the daily hardships of living under Israeli occupation.

“Israelis must recognize 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,” he said. “I’ve suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for talks.”

But some warned that time is running out for a deal as settlements continue to grow.

“We are reaching the tipping point,” said settlement watcher and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer.

“A year from now, if the current trends continue, the two-state solution will not be possible. The map will be so balkanized that it will not be possible to create a credible border between Israel and Palestine,” he said.

Palestinians also argue that after two decades of intermittent negotiations, the contours of an agreement have widely been established and it’s time for decisions, not endless rounds of diplomacy. They suspect Netanyahu is seeking open-ended negotiations to give him diplomatic cover for more settlement-building, while being unwilling to make the needed concessions.

Netanyahu has said he is willing to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state. He reiterated Wednesday, with Obama by his side, that he is ready to return to talks but also said there should be no “preconditions” – his term for the Palestinians’ insistence on a settlement freeze.

The Israeli prime minister has also adopted a tougher starting position for negotiations than some of his predecessors. He refuses to accept the 1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks – even though two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, did offer the Palestinians the overwhelming majority of the West Bank in previous rounds.

Netanyahu also says he will not relinquish any of east Jerusalem, an area Israel expanded into the adjacent West Bank and annexed immediately after the 1967 war.

Israeli governments have built many thousands of homes for Jews in east Jerusalem since then, creating a ring of Jewish settlement within the city’s municipal boundaries that increasingly disconnects its Arab-populated core from the rest of the West Bank. Some 200,000 Jews now live in east Jerusalem, almost even with the Palestinian population in the city, which overall has about 800,000 residents.

In recent months, Netanyahu’s government has approved construction plans for thousands more settlement apartments on Jerusalem’s southern edge that would further isolate Arab neighborhoods in the city from the West Bank, including the nearby biblical city of Bethlehem.

There is strong consensus on the Palestinian side that a two-state deal must include a sharing of Jerusalem – resulting in total deadlock on this issue.

European diplomats warned in an internal report last month that if the current pace of settlement activity on Jerusalem’s southern flank continues, “an effective buffer between east Jerusalem and Bethlehem may be in place by the end of 2013, thus making the realization of a viable two-state solution inordinately more difficult, if not impossible.”

Henry Siegman, a leading critic of Israeli policy in the American Jewish community, said he believes Obama is fully aware of the corrosive effect of settlements.

Time for a deal is slipping away and Obama cannot make do with four more years of just managing the conflict, he said.

“They (U.S. officials) know that if they do nothing, they are sealing the doom of the two-state solution if it has not already been sealed,” said Siegman. “It cannot survive another four years, given the rate of colonization that is taking place.”

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Not a problem .The aarabs will rattle their sabers a little … the US will quake in their pants a little , send more of our tax $$$$ to them , & Israel will be forced to make more concessions , or give back some more land !!!

  2. there is only one state and one nation and that is written in the torah . read rashis commentary on the first posuk.
    this land is our land….. given byHashen to the jews,,

  3. Abbas does not want peace he and the terrorist have sold to the palestinians the notion that they will take over Israel which will never happen
    Abbas and the Palestinians are no partners for peace we should transfer them to Jordan and clean Gaza from all the arabs then maybe we will have peace

  4. Why is obama waisting his time on this? Its clear that the israelis don’t want peace, and they are not a partner to peace and its simple, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose

    • Why would we want peace with barbarians who only want to see our death?! Once they truthfully want peace & can imagine living side by side with Jews, like the Druzim & realize we’re not only (hopefully) not giving them East Jerusalem, but no other piece of land that belongs to us either, then & only then will we be willing to make peace with them.

    • Why would we want peace with barbarians who only want to see our death?! Once they truthfully want peace & can imagine living side by side with Jews, like the Druzim & realize we’re not only (hopefully) not giving them East Jerusalem, but no other piece of land that belongs to us either, then & only then will we be willing to make peace with them.

  5. The Israelis hate him because he’s too pro-Arab.
    The Arabs hate him because he’s too pro-Israeli.
    Sucks to be the President, especially if he’s trying to steer a course which gives everyone something they want.

  6. Abbas y”sh discusses “occupied territories” as if they were taken from him (or the Palis). Nonsense. They were taken from Jordan fair and square when Jordan joined in starting war against Israel. The land was hardly inhabited, and any habitation is due to the investment put in by the Israelis. Abbas ought to choke on his words every time he demands we give him what is ours. If we had taken it from him, he might have legitimacy in wanting it back (but should still never see it, since it was captured fairly). Now, let’s see Obama stick to his words here. I don’t trust him, especially since he no longer needs any support from Jews. But let’s watch this scene.

  7. power up.#4. how many israelis did u speak to? and what percentage said no to peace..and i will guess u dont live there. but you are an expert nevertheless.
    my perspective , wih good reason ,is quite different than yours.
    i have large extended family and many friends living.there.and some have made the ultimate sacrifice. some came b4 WW2 and some made alyia over the past few years. Our youngest has followed his siblings jjoined an older brother in eretz yisroel now That makes it 14 consective years BH and counting. No big deal Some of our friends have children in Israel for over 20 years. The range of these people is from 94 years to 2 weeks. Their range of religious practise is from Kollel to probably fasting on yom kippur.,and everything in between
    You know what they all have in common.They all say shema with emunah. they are jew lovers.and cherish this holy land. They pray and yearn for a real peace.with their arab neighbours ..not some a phony taida . No one wants peace more than mothers of sons and husbands in the army. We do not cheer when someone is killed .
    where do you get your facts. al jazeera?

    • I stand 100% with you. Having made Aaliyah 3 years ago & always being pro Zionist, I know exactly what you’re talking about. We don’t rejoice when our friends, family & children get called up, but we do it with a heavy heart because we know without it our country & the many Jews in it can not survive. #4 has to read the news & see who it is that starts all the wars since the beginning of time against any country, including America, Europe, South America & Africa. Like I said, they are barbarians who only want the death of all inhabitants on earth other than those who believe in the Quran. Actually, I can’t even say that since they are as likely to kill an American as they are to kill an Arab, just look at what’s going on in Africa & Syria.

    • What a silly comment.
      Of course..everyone WANTS peace..but on their own terms.
      Hitler also wanted peace…once he got what he wanted.
      You want peace…after you keep all the territories you desire.

      The question is…are you wiling to compromise for peace?
      How high up your values totem pole is peace?

      Here’s the catch 22..
      If you had a docile passive people living in the territories…would you give them their own state or would you just dictate the terms as you’d see fit?

      • And that comment of yours you call common sense?!! Hitler wanted peace?!! He was a murderer beyond description and all he wanted was the anihilation of jews. maybe you should change your username or apply more common sense.

  8. Let’s understand what the dog, Abbas, means when he speaks of a two-state solution. One state (Arab Palestine) would have no Jewish residents anywhere. The other state (Israel) would have no Jewish character and would be the daily target of rocket attacks from Arab Palestine conducted by “groups” that Mr. Abbas cannot control. Abbas would bear no responsibility for the attacks.

    By way of analogy, when both ants and cockroaches occupy a person’s kitchen, they cannot negotiate with each other to “equitably” divide the resources. Until one understands that Mr. Abbas and his colleagues are not capable of keeping an agreement, he will not understand why there is no peace in Israel. It is silly to expect ants to negotiate with cockroaches and it is silly to expect Israelis to negotiate with savages. The very word “negotiate” suggests the participation of two civilized parties. Ask the Fogel Family, if there are two civilized parties to this dispute.

  9. why are they even discussing negotiations all netanyahu has to do is aneex the west bank(making it part of isreal) and say u want to live tere no problem but it is not palistine it is part of isreal it is the land which was givin to us by god and NOT beacuse of the HOLACAUST!!!!!!

    my question to you mr. obama is if I were the american indians and said give me the state of alabama he would send me flying same thing here all netanyahu has to say is the truth and not play politics and every body will get off his back( the u.n america britian no one can say boo

  10. #15 common sense
    Everyone like things on their own terms. Also true that the jews were quite happy for a variety of reasons, to accept the sliver of land given to them by the powers of the day. The same powers that split the region into spheres of french and english influence creating jordan, saudi arabia, syria etc and israel.
    The arabs werent ok with it , attacked and lost a war . They arent ok with it now.but they are tired of losing wars.
    The jews were happy with this sliver of land.and didnt bloodlust for more . The arabs on the other hand had more than enough land (enormous) but that wasnt enough because they can only be happy when they kill the jews. Your hitler ysm example is good. Hitler like amalek knew that there would be negative consequences but didnt care… as long as u can kill jew. sounds irrational but nevertheless it is true. Ever hear of the final solution. There is an unatural hatred of jews in the world. its called antisemitism and 2000 years after we were exiled it is alive and well. BH the jewish people are also alive and well.and for you to compare us to the enemy tells me you dont have any common sense!

  11. #15 hitler didnt want peace.between people or nations. He wanted the jews dead world domination by his arayan nation and a 1000 year reich.
    The peace your talking about is the peace of the dead. potz

    • I’m sorry that you don’t have the capacity to understand the point I was making.

      Everyone wants peace on their own terms. That’s not peace.

      When settlers talk about a desire for peace it’s ridiculous.
      There are ideological reasons not to want peace if it means giving up land EVEN if we were dealing with a peace loving meek Palestinian people.

      So stop talking about a desire for peace. It’s nonsense.

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