US President Barack Obama is likely to deliver a major address on the Middle
East before leaving for a European trip on May 22.
“This would be about
political change in the Middle East and North Africa,” an administration
official told The Jerusalem Post
Obama: Mideast turmoil creates an opening for peace
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The official would not say
whether the speech would lay out an American vision for resolving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as many have called for.
Though the date
for Obama’s address has not been set, White House aides are indicating that it
could come next week. Obama Spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday that the
president would speak “fairly soon.”
US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton first hinted last month that Obama would be making a speech on the
Middle East, and it was expected that the president would devote significant
attention to the peace process, even though the primary topic would be the
revolutions sweeping the region.
Since then, however, Hamas and Fatah
entered into a unity-government deal that has complicated the American posture
toward engaging the Palestinians, and has pushed Israel away from the
At the same time, Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas has been threatening to go to the United Nations in September to
seek recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, which neither the
US nor Israel want to see happen.
That threat has prompted speculation
that through his speech, Obama would try to generate momentum in a different
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is due in Washington to
deliver his own speech to Congress on May 24. There had been suggestions that he
would try to seize the initiative by outlining a new move toward peace ahead of
Now, however, it seems that the US leader is likely to
Israel and US officials have been in close contact regarding
the upcoming speeches.
The speeches and Netanyahu’s visit – which will
include a meeting with Obama on May 20 and a speech before the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee three days later – come at a time when both Israelis
and Palestinians have insisted that they cannot negotiate.
Palestinians have long said they will not sit down with Israel until it halts
West Bank settlement activity and building Jewish neighborhoods in east
Israel has said that it will not negotiate with any
Palestinian government partnered with Hamas, unless Hamas recognizes the three
Quartet principles: renunciation of terrorism, recognition of Israel and
acceptance of past agreements.
On Wednesday, Hamas party leader Mahmoud
Zahar told Ma’an Radio that recognition of Israel was impossible – even though
his organization could accept a Palestinian state along the pre- 1967
Hamas would accept a Palestinian state “on any part of Palestine,”
he said in an interview with the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
previously said it is willing to temporarily accept a Palestinian state in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The ultimate goal, however, would be a state of
“Palestine in its entirety,” the Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal told
Charlie Rose of PBS last year.
Formal recognition of Israel, the
Gaza-based Zahar, who serves as Hamas’s foreign minister, told Ma’an, would
“cancel the right of the next generations to liberate the lands.”
would jeopardize the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were exiled
from the land in 1948, when Israel was recognized by the United Nations, he
But he toned down the rhetoric and said Hamas had agreed to
maintain Fatah’s truce with Israel.
The gesture was “part of resistance,”
and was “not a cancellation,” Zahar said.
“Truce is not peace,” he told
According to the news agency, Fatah leader Nabil Sha’ath said on
Tuesday night that a unity government with Hamas could be formed within 10 days,
even though Ma’an reported that Abbas had been told that he could not visit Gaza
at this time.
According to Ma’an, a new government will be formed within
10 days, and a delegation was likely to head to Cairo on Saturday to discuss its
Last week in Cairo, Hamas and Fatah agreed to the creation of
a new technocratic PA government that would hold elections within a
Israeli officials said the creation of a government of technocrats
would not allay their fears of a Palestinian government linked to
The question is who is making the decisions, and telling them what
to do, they said. They likened the concept of a technocratic government with
fancy attorneys in three-piece suits, hired by the Mafia.
What Hamas is
saying is what they have always said: that they want to destroy Israel, and if
they are linked to a new Palestinian government, they will continue to work
toward Israel’s destruction from the West Bank, the officials
Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said in the Knesset that a
renewed Hamas presence in the West Bank would give Iran a foothold
“A Hamas state would constitute another branch of Iran in the
region,” at a time when the West is struggling against Iran for control of a
region which hosts the world’s oil reserves, he said.
“We must make clear
to the world that if it recognizes a Palestinian state in September 2011, it
could find out in January 2012 that an Iranian entity has been given an
additional foothold in the Middle East.”
Speaking to the European
Parliament in Strasbourg, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the
“quest for a negotiated agreement has dominated the region for decades. I
continue to believe that a negotiated solution is the only way
But at the same time, she said, she hoped that the unity of
Fatah and Hamas was a positive development – one that was an important part of
the process toward a two-state solution.
It was important to judge the
unity efforts by their results, Ashton said.
Separately, she called on
Israel to transfer the tax revenues to the Palestinians that it has withheld
since the start of the month. Israel has refused to give the money to the PA
until it receives assurances that the money won’t end up in the Hamas
Ashton also spoke out against nongovernmental groups who try to
send ships to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade.
“I do not consider a
flotilla to be the right response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” said
Ashton, as she called on Israel to allow more movement of goods and people in
and out of the Strip.
“I want to see the people of Gaza with a future,
and I also want to see Gilad Schalit, captive for years in Gaza, given the
chance to go home to his mother and father,” she said.
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