Palestinians say Obama key to ending diplomatic deadlock


ANALYSIS:Palestinians have welcomed the decision by US president Barack Obama to visit the region next month but have warned that the only way to end the diplomatic deadlock is for Washington to intervene.

Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were looking forward to the visit.

“We hope that President Obama’s visit to the region is the beginning of a new US policy that will lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied since 1967, in accordance with the international resolutions.”

The Palestinian leadership remains deeply suspicious of Israeli prime minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and is reluctant to return to the formula of direct bilateral negotiations.

Senior Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub said that “the Americans are the only ones who can build a bridge to peace”.

In an interview with Israel army radio, Rajoub, a former head of Palestinian preventive security, was optimistic about next month’s visit, but warned “the only person who can convince the Israelis to change their tune is the US president”. He expressed the hope that the Israeli election result will lead to a change in Israeli policy.

“The time that Israel could act like the neighbourhood bully is over,” he said.

Peace talks

The peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in September 2010 when Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month settlement construction freeze. Since then Palestinians have insisted on another building moratorium as a condition for returning to the negotiating table.

It is still unclear if Abbas will agree to Obama’s call to resume negotiations without some kind of guarantees on the question of settlements.

In the past American mediators have been able to coax Netanyahu into verbal promises not to embark on settlement expansion without the Israeli premier making a public declaration.

New US secretary of state John Kerry, who spoke to Abbas on the phone last week, will meet Palestinian leaders when he visits the West Bank later this month. Top of his agenda will be reaching a formula acceptable to the Palestinians for renewing peace talks.

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad warned that the chances of a breakthrough were slim. “The success of the peace process is dependent on how committed the United States and other countries promoting the process are, in their investment in the process, and in the existence of an autonomous, sovereign Palestinian state on the lands that Israel occupied in 1967.”

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi urged an evenhanded approach from Obama but warned that only an initiative with defined objectives and a binding timeframe could make the two-state solution a reality.

Impartial peace broker

“We welcome President Obama’s visit, if it signals an American promise to become an honest and impartial peace broker. The US can play this positive role by engaging in an effective and constructive manner rather than by repeating the same policy of negotiations for their own sake.” She said the visit’s success would depend on Obama’s willingness to confront Israel.

“Such an engagement requires decisive curbs on Israeli violations and unilateral measures, particularly settlement activity and the annexation of Jerusalem.”

Any resumption of the peace process could derail unity talks between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.