Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Palestinian faith in Obama 'evaporates'.

This was always on the cards:

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".

I personally think that this pessimism is premature, but I fully understand where it is coming from.

It must be enormously disheartening for the Palestinians to watch Netanyahu perform his dance around peace, to watch as he continues to expand the illegal settlements, and yet Obama appears to be doing nothing.

I have also bemoaned the fact that Obama has yet to get tough with the Israelis and use one of the levers which he has to bring Netanyahu to heel.

And it is also true that Abbas is suffering from a drop in popularity at home, although much of this is directly due to the fact that Obama has forced Abbas, for the sake of peace, to back down from previously immovable positions.

Abbas agreed to go to New York and talk with Netanyahu, despite the fact that Israel had refused to stop building illegal settlements, which was breaking a previous commitment Abbas had made.

But the thing which has caused most disquiet amongst Palestinians is the fact that Abbas, again under pressure from the Obama White House, decided not to support a vote at the UN endorsing Goldstone's UN report critical of Israeli actions during the war on Gaza and asking that these actions be sent to the ICC.

I personally think that Obama did this to give himself another lever with which to pressure Netanyahu, but I also understand how impossible this makes Abbas' position.

The Palestinians have been let down too many times by the peace process for anyone to be able to tell them to take the long view. They have taken almost nothing else since 1967 and have seen scant reward for it. How many times have their hopes been raised only for them to see the process crumble? They watched as Bush became the first US president in history to call for a state of Palestine, and then saw how he refused to call for a halt in Israeli actions as she ruthlessly bombarded Gaza.

The entire world agrees that there must be a state of Palestine, so the Palestinians are well within their rights to get extremely sceptical that it has taken the world so very long to make this a reality.

I have faith that Obama will pull this off, whilst sharing in the frustration that the Palestinians are expressing.

I, too, wish that Obama would start putting pressure on Netanyahu and force him to the negotiating table.

But, so far, Obama has avoided bringing the Israeli lobby in Washington down on his back, which is little short of miraculous.

It's almost as if Obama wants Netanyhu to exhaust everyone's patience. He wants Netanyahu to reveal himself as an obstructionist. That way Obama can keep the focus on Netanyhu and avoid Aipac being able to make this, somehow, all about Obama.

It's frustrating, but we should remember that this is still a very young administration. There are more than four years still to go. I still think that Obama will see this through, even if he has to wait for the collapse of Netanyahu's government before he is able to pull it off. The Israelis are isolated and they know it. Traditionally this is not a position which the Israeli public have ever put up with for very long, especially when the country they are at odds with is the United States.

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