President Obama held a 90-minute meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 21st, the same day that Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed their firing of rockets into southern Israel and a day after the burning of American flags and defacement of posters with Obama’s picture in the West Bank.
Obama administration officials have tried to lower expectations of any major new peace initiatives on President Obama’s trip to Israel and the West Bank. And apparently Obama did not offer any.
Instead, at a joint news conference with Abbas following their private meeting, Obama repeated his call for the establishment of an independent, sovereign state of Palestine and the end to Israeli occupation. And he reiterated his opposition to Israeli settlement activities, stating that “we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace.”
However, Obama did not again emphatically demand that Israel agree to revert to the pre-June 1967 lines with minor agreed upon land swaps. And for the first time in public, Obama acknowledged that the settlements issue presented Israel with an internally “complex” situation that is not “going to be solved immediately.” He appeared to move in Israel’s direction in urging the unconditional resumption of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
At President Obama’s joint news conference with Abbas, Obama said that “even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, maybe engaging in activities that the other side considers to be a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get to an agreement. I think we can keep pushing through some of these problems and make sure that we don’t use them as an excuse not to do anything.”
Obama told reporters that he considered the “core” issues to be establishing a sovereign Palestinian state and ensuring security for Israel. “That’s not to say settlements aren’t important,” Obama said. “That’s to say if we solve those two problems, the settlement issue will be resolved. If the expectation is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there’s no point in negotiations.”
One can only speculate as to whether, during Obama’s private discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day before Obama’s meeting with Abbas, they reached some sort of understanding with regard to the public handling of the Iran and settlements issues. Did Netanyahu agree to give Obama the room he needs to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat Obama’s way, in return for Obama’s agreement to give Netanyahu more breathing room on the settlements issue? They, of course, won’t say, but they looked unusually relaxed in each other’s presence during their own joint news conference.
In any case, Abbas would not bite. He refused to budge on linking the resumption of negotiations to an immediate settlements freeze. In his own remarks to the press at his joint news conference with Obama, Abbas stuck to his demand for “the Israeli government to stop settlements in order to discuss all our issues and their concerns. It’s the duty of the Israeli government to stop the settlement activities to enable us to talk about the issues in the negotiations.”
The only slight but meaningless concession that Abbas was reportedly willing to consider making in private to Obama was to allow the Israelis the option of keeping the settlements freeze secret so long as they actually imposed the freeze. Of course, as soon as any settlers found out about the freeze when applying for a new building permit, the secret would be out.
President Obama’s private face-to-face meeting, and standing side by side with Abbas at their news conference, were intended to buttress the legitimacy of Abbas’s claim to represent all of the Palestinian people in negotiations with Israel. “I think part of my goal during this trip is to have helpful discussions with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas on what they need and how they see a potential path and how it would be structured,” Obama said. Obama attempted to marginalize any role for Hamas and its co-jihadists by essentially ignoring them in his remarks.
However, any faith that President Obama may have in Abbas as a constructive partner in negotiations for a two state solution is misplaced. Abbas showed his true colors during an interview aired March 15th on Russia Today TV in which he compared his Fatah party with Hamas in a way that blurred any meaningful distinctions between the two.
The Middle East Media Research Institute published excerpts of this interview in which Abbas said that there was “no difference between our policies and those of Hamas.”
Abbas objected to attaching the label “terrorists” to Hamas and denied that Hamas had fired any missiles at Israel except for “skirmishes once or twice.”
Abbas is just a wee bit off with his numbers. Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas and its co-jihadists have fired more than 8000 rockets into Israel. And at least two more rockets were fired into Israel on the morning of Abbas’s meeting with President Obama.
However, Abbas may have a point about the terrorist label for reasons far different than what he undoubtedly had in mind. “Terrorist” is too generic a term. Labeling Hamas and their ilk as jihadists, Islamo-fascists, or genocidal Islamists is more precise.
The best place to search for Hamas’s espoused policies, as to which Abbas claims there is no difference from his own party’s policies, are the words of two of the most important Hamas leaders themselves, Khaled Mash’al and Isma’il Haniya. They oppose any long-lasting two state solution and advocate an armed struggle to “liberate” all of “Palestine” from the river to the sea.
Here are some quotes, as reported by The Middle East Media Research Institute:
Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al, from a speech delivered on December 7, 2012:
First of all, Palestine – from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, from its north to its south – is our land, our right, and our homeland. There will be no relinquishing or forsaking even an inch or small part of it… since Palestine belongs to us, and is the land of Arabism and Islam, we must never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of it.
Jihad and armed resistance are the proper and true path to liberation and to the restoration of our rights… The true statesman is born from the womb of the rifle and the missile.
Hamas Prime Minister Isma’il Haniya, from a speech delivered on February 4, 2013:
Gaza was strong, and for the first time, the resistance shelled occupied Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Herzliya; and for the first time, two million Israelis were underground and five million experienced the supremacy of the missiles, and the occupation asked for a ceasefire… The day will soon come when you will find no remnant of the occupation in the land of Palestine – all of Palestine.
We will not relinquish the right of return to Palestine; anyone who does is not one of us, and not part of us. I say that I am from Ashkelon – Ashkelon is my city, and to it I shall return.
Hamas’s policy, in short, is to destroy the entire Jewish state of Israel. It rejects any notion of a two state solution except as a temporary way station to a “Palestine” in its entirety “from the River to the Sea.”
Abbas, Obama’s Palestinian interlocutor, admitted just one week ago that, underneath his facade of moderation, there is “no difference between our policies and those of Hamas.” This statement alone should remove all doubt regarding Abbas’s true agenda. It is the same as Hamas’s agenda, but reached through different tactics. Hamas relies primarily on violence, with rockets, suicide bombers and human shields serving as their stock in trade. Abbas’s Fatah party relies primarily on the tactics of deceptive diplomacy and manipulation of pliable international institutions such as the United Nations. That’s not to say that Fatah objects to violence. Last month, for instance, Fatah praised Wafa Idris, who detonated a 22-pound bomb in the center of Jerusalem in January 2001, killing an 81-year-old woman and wounded more than 100 others. In a television address on January 4, 2013 Abbas himself commemorated “Martyrs” from Fatah, Hamas, and other “fighting factions – all the martyrs.” He included in his long list “pioneer” Haj Muhammad Amin Al-Husseini, also known as “Hitler’s mufti” for his support of the Nazi dictator during World War II, and “martyr” Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam, who murdered Jews in their homes in the 1930s before there even was a state of Israel.
While standing side by side with Abbas, President Obama took one small step in the right direction by dismissing Abbas’s pretext for refusing to resume immediate unconditional negotiations with Israel. However, Obama remains under the illusion that Abbas would ever be interested in good faith negotiations leading to a durable two state solution in which an independent Palestinian state will live in peace with a secure Jewish state of Israel.
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