Palestinian Faith in Obama 'Evaporates'

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The Guardian/UK

Palestinian Faith in Obama 'Evaporates'

by
Rory McCarthy

Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas shake hands while Barack Obama looks on at in New York last month. (Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP)

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.

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