Ali El-saleh
Asharq Alawsat (Analysis)
September 22, 2011 - 12:00am

New York, Asharq Al-Awsat – The feeling amongst the members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN in New York ranged from resentment to outright anger following the speech given by US President Barack Obama yesterday. As for French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech to the UN, this was received with praise and applause from the Palestinian delegation.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama appeared to call on the Palestinians to abandon their state recognition bid and return to direct negotiations with Israel. Obama said “peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.” He also reaffirmed US – Israeli ties, stressing that “America’s commitment to Israeli’s security is unshakeable and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.”

Whilst in his speech at the same venue, French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded a “precise timetable” for Israeli – Palestinian peacemaking, and also announced his support for Palestine being granted UN observer status. Sarkozy also made reference to the pre-Six Day War armistice line – something that Obama refrained from doing – stressing that “the ultimate goal of peace negotiations must be mutual recognition of two nation states for two peoples, established on the basis of the 1967 lines, with agreed and equivalent exchanges of land.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday, Palestinian presidential spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, stressed that “peace in the Middle East requires an immediate end to [Israeli] occupation.” Abu Rudeineh called on Washington to put real pressure on Israel to “withdraw immediately from Palestinian territory”, stressing that this is the only way to achieve peace and ensure the security of the Middle East and the world.

Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we appreciate the speech by President Sarkozy, and the Palestinian leadership will closely examine the points he raised in this speech in a serious and positive manner.”

As for US President Barack Obama’s speech, Abed Rabbo bluntly told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we will not be examining this [speech].”

In his UN speech, French President Nicolas Sarkozy put forward a precise timetable for Palestinian – Israeli peace talks, namely “one month to resume discussions, six months to find an agreement on borders and security, one year to reach a definitive agreement." However contrary to Washington’s point of view, Sarkozy has called on such Palestinian – Israeli talks to take place via wide-ranging international mediation, telling the UN General Assembly, “let us stop believing that a single country or a small group of countries can resolve so complex a problem.” The French President asked “who still believes that the [Israeli – Palestinian] peace process can succeed without Europe? Who still believes that it can succeed without the involvement of all the permanent members of the [UN] Security Council?”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Palestinian delegate Muhammad Shtayyeh said that “President Obama’s speech was unbalanced and did not contain anything new; in fact we view it as a retreat from what was put forward in previous speeches.” He added that “the speech gave the Jews a historic right to Palestine, whilst it did not include the Palestinian side of the story whatsoever.”

Shtayyeh also stressed that “it is not enough to talk about aspirations; there must be procedures that stop settlement building and guarantee the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of a State.” He added that “we view [Obama’s] speech as primarily being an election speech that contradicts former positions taken by the US.”

Whilst Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the whole world is aware of the danger of the situation in the Middle East and the importance of a two-state solution, and everybody is now saying that the time has come for the Palestinian people to achieve freedom and independence and end the suffering they have experienced over the past 60 years and establish an independent state based upon the 1967-borders.”

Al-Ahmad said that “Obama’s speech did not constitute a blatant retreat from what he talked about when he first took office in the White House” adding that Obama’s position represents a “repeat of the US hypocrisy that we have become used to over the years.”

He also told Asharq Al-Awsat that US President Obama’s “talk about Israeli children and their suffering was as if Palestinian children are free and safe from the Israeli killing machine” adding that “it is as if he has forgotten that Palestinian children are unable even to go to school due to the Israeli Apartheid wall.”

In his speech to the UN, Obama had said that “Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.”

Commenting on Obama’s claim that “peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN” Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad asked Asharq Al-Awsat, “if the UN does not work to resolve conflicts, then why did Obama and previous US presidents come to the UN to obtain resolutions on Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya?”

He also strongly criticized Obama’s speech, stressing that “we consider it to be hypocritical and completely biased towards the Israeli side” adding that “it completely ignores what was put forward by the Palestinian leaders with regards to the process of negotiation.” Al-Ahmad blamed this on “Israeli intransigence and American complicity.”

As for French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech, Al-Ahmad told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this put forward ideas that deserve attention and examination and implementation. We hope that this receives a response from the world leaders that want to fulfill their responsibility towards world peace and security, especially with regards to achieving peace in the Middle East by ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state along the 1967-borders.”

Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, who is accompanying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on his historic visit to the UN in New York, told Asharq Al-Awsat that US President Barack Obama “adopted the Israeli narrative and forgot the Palestinian suffering.” He added that “the speech contained a moral double standard towards the Palestinians, for it spoke about the people who rose up against oppression [as part of the Arab Spring] but did not mention the Israeli oppression [of the Palestinians].”

Tibi, who heads the Arab – Israeli Ta’al [Arab movement for Renewal] party stressed that President Obama “lost many points in front of the Arab world” adding that “his moral status has been shaken.” As for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Tibi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “he gave a courageous speech…that distinguished himself from Obama and the US. His speech was entirely devoted to the Palestinian Cause.”


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