Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in The National - September 3, 2010 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON // Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday declared their commitment to arriving at a sustainable peace as they entered their first direct negotiations in 20 months.

Both sides have set the deadline of one year to reach a deal, and flanked by the Palestinian and Israeli leaders, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, reminded both sides that the main responsibility for achieving it would fall on them.

“We cannot and we will not impose a solution,” Mrs Clinton told the Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister. “Only you can make the decisions necessary to reach an agreement and secure a peaceful future for the Israeli and Palestinian people.”

After the opening ceremony in the US State Department the two leaders agreed to meet in the Middle East on September 14-15, the US special envoy George Mitchell said.

Just as they did the previous night, both sides exchanged remarks over the two terrorist attacks aimed at Israeli settlers this week.

On Tuesday, four Jewish settlers were shot dead near the West Bank town of Hebron.

On Wednesday, as negotiators convened in Washington, Palestinian gunmen injured two Israelis in a similar drive-by shooting. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Mr Netanyahu said the attacks reinforced the need for security to ensure a lasting peace. Mr Abbas appeared to deviate from his prepared remarks to announce that Palestinian investigators had “found the car” and “arrested those who bought and sold the car” – presumably referring to one of the vehicles used in the two drive-by shootings.

Nabil Shaath, a senior member of the Palestinian delegation in Washington, said Israeli security forces had full control – and therefore full responsibility – over the area around Hebron where the attacks occurred.

“Of course we condemn and we are against any killing when we have adopted non-violence as a strategy of resistance against Israeli occupation, particularly when it has to do with civilians,” Mr Shaath said.

“And so again, this is what the Israelis do. They claim that settlements are a security measure, when in fact settlements have been destroying security, particularly in areas which are densely populated by Palestinians and in which the Palestinian security forces are not allowed to function.”

Mr Obama’s remarks earlier and Mrs Clinton’s yesterday were also notable for their thinly veiled frustration with regional players, particularly the Gulf Arab states, analysts said.

“To those who criticise this process, who stand on the sidelines and say ‘no’, I ask you to join us in this effort,” the secretary of state said yesterday.

“As President Obama said yesterday, we hear often from those voices in the region who insist that this is a top priority and yet do very little to support the work that would actually bring about a Palestinian state. Now is the opportunity to start contributing to progress.”

The comments of both Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton appeared to be directed at Saudi Arabia, which has close ties with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine.

“He was saying Gulf Arab states could do more in terms of making good on pledges of money to the PA and much more outreach to facilitate peace,” said Mr Ibish. “His remarks were passionate and expressed frustration as well as tying the peace process directly to US interests being served by seeing peace in the Middle East.”

The fledgling Palestinian state relies on foreign aid, but the US and its western allies have expressed their frustration with Gulf states, whose financial contributions to the Palestinian Authority have ebbed this year. Only 22 per cent of Palestinian Authority budget support in 2010 came from Gulf nations, with the rest coming from the United States and the European Union, according to the Reuters news agency.

Despite the dip in aid, Mr Netanyahu’s comments Wednesday night touched upon one of his more frequent arguments: that peace brings with it the potential for Palestinian economic development.

The Israeli prime minister reminded reporters of the West Bank’s recent high level of economic growth – which touched 8.5 per cent last year, according to the International Monetary Fund – as well as that region’s confident strides toward improving government institutions.

“I see what a period of calm has created for the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, of Jenin and throughout the West Bank: a great economic boom,” said Mr Netanyahu.
“We want the skyline of the West Bank to be dominated by apartment towers, not missiles. We want the roads of the West Bank to flow with commerce, not terrorists.”
But for all of Mr Netanyahu’s rhetoric, his comments avoided direct mention of settlement building in the West Bank.

Mr Abbas and his negotiating team have threatened to walk out of the talks if Mr Netanyahu allows a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank to expire on September 26.

Mr Netanyahu has said that extending the settlement freeze would almost certainly destroy his right-wing parliamentary coalition, ending his premiership.

The president and his administration are becoming increasingly impatient with the leadership of Mr Abbas, said a Washington-based Arab analyst.

At the press conference, Mr Abbas reiterated his longstanding call for Israel to halt all “settlement activity,” although no one expected the Palestinian president to risk US ire and walk out of talks should Israel, as expected, fall short of a full freeze of construction activity when a moratorium runs out later this month.

“The Americans have lost a lot of patience with Abu Mazen [Abbas] after he dragged his feet to to the talks and continued to push for a settlement freeze after the Americans found a fudge with the Israelis,” said the analyst, referring to Israel’s agreement with the US to refrain from large-scale land appropriation but not construction in the large settlement blocs in the West Bank.


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