Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — It’s easy enough to criticize Obama’s speech in terms of specifics – the fact that he denounced Palestinian violence at a time when Palestinians are overwhelmingly the victims of Israeli violence; the fact that he implied that Hamas merely has fringe support from “some Palestinians” rather than acknowledging that they won one election fair and square and will most likely win the next – but probably the most important thing about the speech is that the US president comes away having accrued political capital and in a better position to continue applying persistent pressure on the Israelis.
The glaring gap in the political equation is an effective process that will lead to Palestinian reconciliation. Sooner or later the US is going to have to involve itself. Egyptian mediators, fearful that empowering Hamas will empower their own Muslim Brotherhood, are not up to the task.
In characterizing Obama’s approach I would say we should expect incremental advances without high drama. He will pressure the Israelis through persistence — by convincing them of his seriousness and unwillingness to become distracted.
It is true, the official said, that a succession of U.S. administrations has called on Israel to halt expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but he insisted those demands were designed for public consumption.
Privately, he said, the two countries have agreed for years that some new construction could go ahead, provided it met certain conditions worked out informally between the two governments.
Traditionally, the official explained, a “halt” to new settlement construction meant Israel could go ahead with building, provided such activity took place within existing settlement boundaries, did not include financial incentives for prospective settlers, and did not involve expropriation of private land.
These were the rules worked out privately with Washington, he said, and Israel has abided by them.
“Israel,” he said, “has not been hoodwinking anyone.”
In the past, rather than condemn Israel for such activity, Washington would instead react with muted dissent, using vapid adjectives such as “unhelpful” to describe the ongoing settlement construction.
Such words, the official said, were actually meant to signal Washington’s acceptance of Israel’s actions, not its disapproval.
Now, he complained, the administration of President Barack Obama is abandoning such unwritten “understandings” by insisting its demand for a halt to new construction means exactly what it says – no new construction.
In other words, “no” no longer means “yes.” [continued…]
The US has invited leading critics of the Egyptian regime, including members of parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group, to attend President Barack Obama’s much-awaited speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday.
The audience at Cairo University will include bloggers critical of the Egyptian government, Ayman Nour, the former presidential candidate whose imprisonment had strained relations between Cairo and the previous US administration, as well as independent deputies who belong to the banned Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group.
The guest list marks an apparent US attempt to balance closer relations with Arab leaders with an outreach to civil society and opposition groups. Mr Obama has carefully refrained from criticising the Egyptian authorities even when pressed on their human rights record. And he arrives in Cairo after lavishing praise on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during a visit to Riyadh. [continued…]