Will Obama push for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Submitted by martin on 8 September, 2010 - 2:23 Author: Colin Foster

On Thursday 2 September, US President Barack Obama got Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinina Authority president Mahmoud Abbas together for talks in Washington.

Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to discuss a “framework” setting out the compromises both sides will make, and to meet again in Egypt on 14 and 15 September.

Obama has said he plans to get a settlement negotiated by September 2011. But prospects look difficult.

The Israeli government's partial freeze on the building of new settlements in the West Bank expires on 26 September. Netanyahu's right-wing allies in his government coalition are vehemently opposed to extending it.

A recent opinion poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, published on 30 August, showed 55% of Palestinians backing a two-states settlement (27% for a "bi-national state", which was the other option offered in the poll, and 19% saying "don't know", "there is no answer", etc.)

The "technocratic" government in the West Bank, appointed by Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, came out of the poll much better than the Hamas regime in Gaza. Many Palestinians see it as having improved security and reduced corruption.

But only 32% of Palestinians are for direct negotiations now (as against indirect negotiations, or a freeze for now on negotiations). 66% think that Obama is "not in a position" to get an independent Palestinian state established alongside Israel.

Thus Abbas came under considerable pressure over going to Washington at all, and has said that he will withdraw from talks if the settlement freeze is not extended.

There are reasons to think that Obama and those around him really want to push for a settlement.

In evidence to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, David Petraeus, the top US military commander for the Middle East, listed his top concern for the region as:

"Insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace. The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the [region]... The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel".

However, Obama has not yet felt strong or confident enough to put sufficient pressure on Netanyahu to stop the settlements long-term and negotiate seriously for a deal.

"Two states" remains the only formula which can accommodate the democratic rights to self-determination of both nations, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and thus the only formula which can arm workers, Arab and Jewish, to unite across the borders.

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