EMAIL SIGN UP!
Most Popular This Week
Today's Top News
Palestinian Faith in Obama 'Evaporates'
Palestinian political leaders have expressed acute disappointment in the Obama administration, saying their hopes that it could bring peace to the Middle East have "evaporated" and accusing the White House of giving in to Israeli pressure.
The unusually frank comments come in an internal memo from the Fatah party, led by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, but reflect a broader frustration among Palestinian politicians that Washington's very public push for peace in the Middle East has yet to produce even a restarting of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
"All hopes placed in the new US administration and President Obama have evaporated," said the document, which was leaked to the Associated Press news agency.
It said Barack Obama "couldn't withstand the pressure of the Zionist lobby, which led to a retreat from his previous positions on halting settlement construction and defining an agenda for the negotiations and peace".
The document, dated Monday, came from an office led by Mohammed Ghneim, a Fatah hardliner and the party's number two, who returned to the West Bank only this year after many years in exile. He was long a critic of the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s, arguing they gave too much to the Israelis.
Other Palestinian figures share the frustrations. Mohammad Dahlan was reported as saying this week that he felt "very disappointed and worried by the US administration retreat".
For many months now, the Palestinians have kept to their position that talks cannot restart without an end to construction in Israeli settlements and a guarantee that a full agreement is on the table, based on the borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
"The Israelis need to acknowledge that the 1967 borders are the borders between the two states, and this is the foundation of any negotiations," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Abbas.
George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, was in Jerusalem again at the weekend for another round of apparently fruitless talks between the two sides.
After Obama met with Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in New York last month he said he wanted negotiations to restart soon. But even with the president's newlyawarded Noble peace prize, that still seems harder than first expected.
Washington has notably toned down its language on Israeli settlement-building, and no longer calls for a full freeze to construction, talking instead of "restraint."
But this Palestinian disenchantment also comes at a time when Abbas has seen his personal credibility badly damaged among his own people, and it may be partly an effort to deflect criticism. There was disquiet when he agreed at the last minute to go to New York last month for the Netanyahu meeting, even though the Israelis had not agreed to the full halt to settlement building that Abbas had demanded.
The criticism worsened dramatically when 10 days ago he decided against supporting a vote at the UN human rights council to endorse a critical UN report on the Gaza war, written by the South African judge Richard Goldstone.
The report, hailed by human rights groups, accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes and recommended that international prosecutions be considered.
Although it appeared that the Palestinians had enough support at the council to endorse the report, Abbas backed away at the last minute, apparently under intense US diplomatic pressure. He faced bitter criticism from his political rival, Hamas. It said he was unfit to lead and pulled out of a crucial reconciliation agreement due to have been signed later this month.
Abbas has since reversed his decision. Now the report will once again be considered at the human rights council in Geneva at a special session starting on Thursday. In New York tomorrow the UN security council will hold a debate on the Middle East, brought forward after Libya, a current council member, said the Goldstone report should be discussed.
It is not only the Palestinians who see little chance of peace: last week, Israel's often outspoken foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said there was no chance of a full peace deal with the Palestinians until a "much later stage."
"There are many conflicts in the world that haven't reached a comprehensive solution, and people learned to live with it," he said.