Obama policy jars Palestinians

2011-05-23 14:15

Jerusalem - US-Israel tension over Barack Obama's endorsement of Israel's pre-1967 borders is obscuring a flip side of the Middle East coin: The past days' speeches by the US president contained difficult challenges for the Palestinians as well.

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, Obama reiterated his request that the Palestinians drop their plans to appeal for recognition at the UN this year, and - as he did in another Mideast speech Thursday - raised tough questions about an emerging Palestinian unity government that is to include the Hamas militant group.

Most difficult for Palestinians is Obama's call to recognise Israel as the Jewish homeland, essentially requiring the Palestinians to accept that most refugees will be denied the "right of return" to what is now Israel.

Perhaps for this reason, the Palestinians have remained largely quiet about the substance of Obama's speeches, seemingly content to watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clash with the US administration over Israel's future borders.

"It's really premature to jump into any of these details," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, when asked by The Associated Press about the demands Obama made of the Palestinians.

Explosive issues

The fate of Palestinian refugees is one of the most emotional and explosive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948. Today, the surviving refugees, with their descendants, number several million people.

The Palestinians claim they have the right to return to their family's lost properties. Israel rejects the principle, saying it would mean the end of the country as a Jewish democracy. Israeli leaders say the refugees should be entitled to compensation and resettled in a future Palestine to be established next to Israel, or absorbed where they now live.

In his speech last Thursday, Obama did not explicitly mention the refugees. But by saying a final peace deal must recognise "Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people", he appeared to back the Israeli position.

The issue is so central to Palestinian policy and society that no Palestinian leader can be seen as abandoning the rights of the refugees, particularly at a time when peace efforts are at a standstill and so many other difficult issues, such as borders and the final status of Jerusalem, remain unresolved.

Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, said recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would sell out not only the refugees, but potentially open the door to Israel expelling its roughly 1.5 million Arab citizens as well. This idea has never been seriously raised in Israel.

He said the Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist, without any reference to national character, should be sufficient.

Palestinian policy

"We recognise Israel as a state," he said. "It's a recognition of a state to a state."

In his two recent speeches, Obama took aim at two other central planks of Palestinian policy: Plans to ask the UN in September to recognise an independent Palestine, with or without a peace agreement; and a unity deal struck between President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement and the Iranian-backed Hamas militants.

In Thursday's speech, Obama warned that "symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state". And referring to Hamas in Sunday's address to Aipac, a powerful pro-Israel lobby, Obama stated: "No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organisation sworn to its destruction."

"We will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric," Obama said.

Erekat insisted the world must embrace the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, meant to end the split that has left rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians claim both areas, along with east Jerusalem, for their future state, and Erekat said there can be no independence without reconciliation.

In any case, he said Abbas, and the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation, dominated by Fatah, are the parties to negotiate peace with Israel - not the "unity government" of the Palestinian Authority which would be backed by both parties.

Erekat, like other Palestinians officials, declined to discuss most of the specifics of Obama's speech, including the issue of the Jewish state. For now, he said the border issue should be the focus of Mideast diplomacy.


The Palestinians demand a return to the pre-1967 lines, which would require an Israeli pullout from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, though they are open to Obama's idea of agreed-upon modifications through land swaps - as long as they are small.

Erekat said if Netanyahu accepts the 1967 lines he could raise any other matter in negotiations.

"Before I hear the prime minister of Israel saying that he accepts this principle, I think it would be a waste of my time to discuss any other issue," Erekat said.

Netanyahu says the 1967 lines are "indefensible", and his anger toward the US president seemed palpable at a White House meeting on Friday.

But even Obama's reference to the 1967 lines may not be entirely to the Palestinians' liking.

Clarifying his position on Sunday, Obama said those lines should be the basis for a peace deal, but that the final borders could be adjusted to accommodate "new demographic realities".

That was seen as a recognition that Israel could keep at least some of the occupied area where it has settled Jews. Some 500 000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements, which are considered illegal by the Palestinians and the international community.

Jewish state

Obama also noted the 1967 lines have long been considered a basis for a final peace deal, most recently in previous negotiations that broke down in 2008. So his embrace of those borders is not revolutionary. "What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately," he said.

After initial shock and anger toward Obama, members of Netanyahu's hard-line coalition have begun to soften their opposition.

Limor Livnat, a Cabinet minister in Netanyahu's nationalist Likud Party, called Obama's speech on Sunday "excellent". She praised his tough line against Hamas and support for Israel as a Jewish state.

"Following the prime minister's words, the president sharpened his message and said things that he didn't say clearly beforehand," she told Channel 2 TV. "These are important things."

  • - 2011-05-23 14:39 The resolution was accepted by the Jews in the British mandate of Palestine, yet rejected by the Arabs in the mandate and the Arab states. Here are a couple links on Israel history: A article on the Israeli - arab conflict

  • 4_Land_Grabs - 2011-05-23 14:54

    Anyone could tell Obama that he would hav trouble getting a fee lunch out of the Israeli people, let alone Land !!! - Come on Israel,Maybe cutting your noses to spite your faces might not be so bad in your case.

      slg - 2011-05-23 16:34

      Israel is not an amorphous, homogenous entity. It is made up of hundreds of thousands of people with differing views.

  • 4_Land_Grabs - 2011-05-23 14:55

    Anyone could tell Obama that he would hav trouble getting a free lunch out of the Israeli people, let alone Land !!! - Come on Israel,Maybe cutting your noses to spite your faces might not be so bad in your case

      King Solomon - 2011-05-23 16:05

      Those remarks are stupid, uninformed and antisemitic.

  • Grunk - 2011-05-23 15:00

    You need the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and the acceptance and application by all parties of a relatively democratic process. As a consequence, I do not think the problem can be resolved. The problem might be able to be contained by raising the living standards of all persons living there to an acceptable standard instead of using all the funds to buy weaponry - but that is about as near to a settlement you will get.

      Robbie - 2011-05-23 15:10

      Both Israel and the palestians get huge chunks of money from the USA, only the Jews seem to use theirs wisely... makes one think does it not?

      Grunk - 2011-05-23 16:27

      The one side is fed with Weapons and the other side riddled with corrupt politicians (both sides??). This merely exacerbates the problem - not solve it.

  • Observer - 2011-05-23 15:14

    I don't think anyone will listen...but hopefully some will - this is a forum! Not a place to air your views on why you don't like the other side. Nothing ever comes of shooting your mouth off at someone else - better to engage in sensible discussion. Besides, we're all (?) here in SA - what difference are we going to make?

  • Irené - 2011-05-23 16:01

    I would think, given South Africa's history, that SAffers would atleast read about the conflict, and educate themselves instead of just jumping onto the 'Poor israel bandwagon'. Check out:

      slg - 2011-05-23 16:35

      Your introduction is erudite, then you dish up that website. Hilarious. Google PBS Frontline and PBS Newshour instead. They are funded by millions of individuals who want clean news.

      Cornix - 2011-05-23 16:39

      @Irené From the day that Israel was founded as a state, they had to face hostility and defend themselves. They are surrounded by enemies. Many of those deaths are nothing more than the result of Israel having to defend themselves.

      Irené - 2011-05-23 17:15

      @ slg- yet you do not give me any reason why is laughable. Can you give me one reason why they would not be a credible source? @cornix- the Palestinians are only acting in SELF-DEFENSE aswell then- the concept self defense is subjective. you obviously choose to support Israel and ignore the plight of millions of Palestinians, do the innocent palestinians not also deserve a place to call their own?

      slg - 2011-05-23 17:36

      Irene, it's not credible because the people behind it are hidden. It's clandestine, like your conspiracy theories and belief than Bin Laden is still alive or was killed ten years ago. All this is off-beam, looney-tunes, etc.

      Cornix - 2011-05-23 17:40

      @Irené - Yes, they do. However, one cannot put the blame entirely on Israel. Hamas launch rockets into Israeli territory on a regular basis. What must Israel do about them? Keep on dodging them? Or try to destroy the bases from which they are fired? Problem is, Hamas make sure those bases are located in heavily populated areas. Unfortunately, when Israel wipe out those bases, civilian lives are lost. Who do they blame it on? Israel of course. Why is it that so few people seem to grasp this?

      andrew.pottow - 2011-05-24 09:34

      A balanced and impartial investigation into their history as a nation reveals opression over the last couple thousand years, and most recently, the holocaust and then the 6 day war etc. Israel has been subject to more terrorism than any other western nation in its short existance. Those are the irrefutable facts. It is a miracle the tiny nation has survived this long. They deserve a medal at the very least! Even after enduring so much pain and suffering at the hands of europeans, arabs and countless others, they maintain a racism free government. Arabs are allowed to stand for election. Arabs make up a portion of all levels of government. The Jews have never declared war on any nation without provocation. All Israel asks is to be recognised as a Jewish state, which has been denied to them for all of history, and the right to exist. Is that too much to ask? The Arab League seems to think so, they refuse to recognise Israel as an independant Jewish state and their citizens continue to exibit an attitude that does not allow for Israel to exist. Recently protests expressing grief were held in the neighbouring states on the anneversary of Israels creation, and when they voilated Israels sovereign right to defend its borders, it became Israels fault for stopping them. This culture of appeasing the Arabs is screwed up! Hamas is sworn to the destruction of Israel but the world expects Israel to negotiate with them? Is it just me or is your logic f@#ked up?!

  • WATCHMAN - 2011-05-23 18:22

    Here is why we are going to continue to support the State of Israel and the Jewish people: 1) Israel is not a political issue…Israel is a Bible issue. Truth is not what you think it is, truth is not what I say it is, truth is what the Bible says it is. The reality is that Israel is the only nation created by a sovereign act of God in the Book of Genesis. Israel was not born on May 15, was born 3,500 years ago when Almighty God made an eternal covenant between Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants (see Genesis 13:14-15 and Genesis 17:7-8). 2) Those who believe the Bible are commanded in Psalms 122:6 to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces." 3) God has promised in Genesis 12:1-4 to bless every person and nation who blesses Israel and to curse every person and nation that curses Israel. The effectiveness of this divine mandate is seen in the lives of two Pharaohs. The Pharaoh that blessed Joseph and the Jewish people avoided starvation and knew unlimited prosperity; the Pharaoh that "knew not Joseph" and who drowned Jewish male children in the Nile River was himself turned to fish food in the Red Sea with his army. Exactly what you do to the Jewish people, God will do to you. 4) In Luke 7 the blessing of healing came to the house of a Roman centurion (a Gentile) with a sick servant. Why? Jesus Christ, a Jewish Rabbi, entered the Roman centurion's house and prayed for his sick servant because "he built a synagogue" in the Land of Israel (see Luke 7:1-5). 5) St. Paul has commanded all Christians in Romans 15:27, "For if the Gentiles have benefitted from their spiritual things (the Jewish people) it is the duty of the Gentiles to minister to them in material things." What spiritual blessings have the Jewish people given to us? They have given us the Word of God, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the first family of Christianity (Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the 12 Disciples) and the Apostle Paul. Take away the Jewish contribution to Christianity and there would be no Christianity. 6) We support Israel because Jesus Christ our Lord said, "I say to you, 'Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'" (Matthew 25:40). The phrase "My brethren" refers to the Jewish people. Jesus never called the Gentiles His brethren until the cross. Before the cross we were, as St. Paul stated, "outside the covenants of Israel, without God and without hope and of all men most miserable." 7) We support Israel because Obadiah 1:15 and Joel 3:2 make it very clear that any nation (including America) that tries to divide the Land of Israel (including Jerusalem) will indeed experience the judgment of God. Simply stated, the day America turns its back on Israel will be the day God will turn His back on America. 8) We support Israel because Israel has the right to exist! We call on the President and Congress to demand that Hamas and the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist or to cut off all foreign aid immediately. Israel has the right to defined and defensible borders. Israel has the right to defend itself from any nation or group of people that attack them. To all Bible believers, let us UNITE to stand up and speak up for the State of Israel. God is watching! Sincerely, Pastor John Hagee

      slg - 2011-05-23 19:51

      God doesn't judge, Watchman. God is love. This is the central problem with all religions.

      fr13nd - 2011-05-24 06:55

      slg: How wrong can one be? Psa 50:6 And the heavens declare His righteousness (rightness and justice), for God, He is judge. Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]! P.S. Therein lies your problem, you think they have a right to judge and the creator hasn't (because in your mind the creator doesn't exist). So what makes you master do be the judge of all religions?

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