Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Isn't Obama Pressuring the Palestinians?

From FP JANUARY 4, 2011, BY STEVEN J. ROSEN:

Mahmoud Abbas says he won't negotiate with Israel. Why is Obama letting him get away with it?

 

For the first time since the Oslo peace process started 18 years ago, Palestinian leaders are openly refusing to negotiate with the government of Israel, and U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is doing very little about it. As Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, explained the policy on Dec. 9, "We will not agree to negotiate as long as settlement building continues." The Arab League is backing Abbas in this refusal, says League chief Amr Moussa, because"the direction of talks has become ineffective and it has decided against the resumption of negotiations."

But Abbas himself negotiated with seven previous Israeli prime ministers without such preconditions. For 17 years -- from the Madrid conference of October 1991 through Abbas's negotiations with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which ended in 2008 -- negotiations moved forward while Jerusalem construction continued. Madrid, Oslo I, Oslo II, the Hebron Protocol, the Wye River Memorandum, Camp David, Taba, the disengagement from Gaza, and Olmert's offer to Abbas -- all these events over the course of two decades were made possible by a continuing agreement to disagree about Israeli construction of Jewish homes in Jewish neighborhoods outside the pre-1967 line in East Jerusalem. But now, peace talks cannot even begin. Why the change?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledgesthat the Palestinians are creating a new precondition for talks to begin. Settlements, she says, have "always been an issue within the negotiations.… There's never been a precondition." But Clinton has not stated any public objection to Abbas making this a new excuse not to negotiate.

Abbas himself blames Obama. As he said in November, "At first, President Obama stated in Cairo that Israel must stop all construction activities in the settlements. Could we demand less than that?" ...

In refusing to meet with Israel, Abbas is violating one of the most important commitments his predecessor Yasir Arafat made at the start of the Oslo process, which included this pledge to then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Sept. 9, 1993:

"The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides, and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations."


It is also a direct violation of the pledge that Abbas himself made barely three years ago at the Annapolis conference. As witnessed by foreign ministers of 47 countries on Nov. 27, 2007:

"We agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements. We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations."


Abbas is also rejecting the imperative laid down by the Middle East "Quartet" in March 2010, demanding "the resumption, without preconditions, of direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues as previously agreed by the parties." It is a repudiation of Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who said, "We do not believe in preconditions. We do not impose them. And we urge others not to impose preconditions." It is a dismissal of an objective considered vital by the Obama administration, to "re-launch negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions, which is in the interests of everyone in the region." Abbas is spurning all appeals from Clinton, who says that "negotiations between the parties is the only means by which all of the outstanding claims arising out of the conflict can be resolved."

But the Obama administration is raising no public objection to the Palestinians' stance. It has not expressed one word of criticism of Abbas, nor used anything resembling the pressure tactics Obama has so freely used against the Israeli side. In fact, Obama did quite the opposite on Oct. 7, when he issued a special waiver of Section 7040(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act to transfer additional funds directly to the Palestinian Authority, just as it was announcing its refusal to negotiate....
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