Asharq Alawsat (Opinion)
February 19, 2013 - 1:00am

In his latest State of the Union address, the US President did not utter the word Palestine or mention the Palestinian cause even once. Furthermore, Barack Obama, who has decided to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan next month, has no intention of visiting any major Arab capital or talking about an issue the Arabs have long considered their pivotal cause. In his address, the US President spoke only of the Iranian nuclear danger and called upon Tehran’s leaders to accept a diplomatic solution now, otherwise an alliance will stand united to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Now initiating his second term in office, Obama's stance seems totally different from the one he adopted four years ago when he came to the White House for the first time. On 4 May 2009, Obama addressed the Islamic world from Cairo University, where he promised to treat the Palestinian cause as a high priority. To fulfill his promise, on 19 May 2010, the US President overtly emphasized the need to settle the Palestinian cause, hence calling upon the two parties (the Palestinians and the Israelis) to return to negotiations on the basis of establishing a Palestinian state in accordance with the 1967 borders. In response to his call, negotiations commenced between Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu—under the auspices of the US— on 2 September 2010. However, the Palestinians did not negotiate for very long and decided to withdraw after only one month, on account of Israeli settlement construction. Furthermore, Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would not return to negotiations unless Israel ceased its settlement construction in the West Bank.

Although President Abbas' stance—when making this particular decision—complied with firm Palestinian principles, with it he destroyed the last remaining hope of establishing a Palestinian state on its own soil, nearly 62 years on from the establishment of the Israeli state. On 3 October 2010, Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee, said that in order to resume negotiations, Israel must take concrete steps beforehand to prove its seriousness, most notably ceasing settlement activity without restrictions. As a result, Netanyahu effectively acquired carte blanche from the Palestinian leadership to build whatever settlements he wanted as long as the Palestinians remained distant from negotiations.

It was clear from the outset that Netanyahu did not want to reach an agreement leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state before he accomplished his settlement plan in the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem. However, Abbas could have exposed Netanyahu by carrying on with negotiations despite the settlement construction, in order for the Palestinians to establish their own state. Then a comprehensive agreement could have been reached, borders could have been demarked, and settlement construction could have been dealt with in a more effective manner.

When the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was concluded in 1993, it was decided that occupying troops would withdraw from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, with Gaza and the occupied Western Bank coming under the control of the Palestinian Authority. However, the Hamas government, chaired by Ismail Haniyeh, imposed its own control on the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

All attempts to unite the various Palestinian entities under one political authority, to negotiate on behalf of all the Palestinian people, have failed. The latest attempt was held in Cairo under Egyptian auspices following the recent Islamic Summit. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, held a meeting with Khaled Mishal, leader of the Hamas political bureau, in order to sign an agreement that was concluded in both Doha and Cairo, but this did not happen. Now, only a few weeks before the US President is due to visit Ramallah in March 2013, Fatah and Hamas still are unable to reach a unified Palestinian stance. So will Barack Obama venture to solve this issue when Palestinian side cannot even agree on its own objectives, while other parties are unanimous that Iranian nuclear weapons are now the main threat for the Middle East?


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