Pressuring the PA

Despite their internal challenges, Obama can still prevail upon the Palestinians to stop the vicious incitement against Israel, stop refusing to negotiate peace with Israel, hold free and fair elections and stop threatening the US administration when it offers to help Palestinians achieve stable political independence.

By
March 20, 2013 15:45
2 minute read.
Anti-Obama Palestinian protesters in Ramallah, March 19, 2013.

Anti-Obama Palestinian protesters 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

The state visit of US President Barack Obama to Israel comes at an important moment.

The United States and Israel share vital interests in a turbulent Middle East; stopping the Iranian regime’s sprint for nuclear weapons and terrordriven regional supremacy, managing Syria’s spiraling instability while tracking its movable stores of chemical weapons, and keeping radical Islam in check are a few front-burner issues.

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The two democratic nations also share an interest in a peaceful, resilient resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. All factions in the incoming Israeli government have made clear that they are committed to a diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s commitment to a durable peace seems clear.

He has already tapped his first coalition partner, incoming Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, to head peace talks with Palestinian negotiators along the lines of Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, in which he committed to a viable, non-militarized Palestinian state while reaffirming Israel’s vital security needs and national interests such as defensible borders and a united Jerusalem.

In contrast, Obama’s planned visit to Ramallah comes at a far more defiant moment for the Palestinian Authority and its leadership.

They will need to be pressured by Obama to jumpstart any meaningful peace negotiations with Israel.

The PA’s unilaterally engineered upgrade to non-member observer state status at the UN General Assembly last year uprooted the cardinal principle underlying peace talks with Israel since 1993 and defied US calls to return to the table without preconditions.

The Palestinians continue to refuse. For their part, they say that they are lukewarm at best over Obama’s upcoming Ramallah visit. Both Fatah and Hamas officials have issued threats of violence during the president’s visit. They say they are weighing a third intifada. Nasser Lacham, the editor-in-chief of the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, told Israel Army radio on March 12 that the Palestinian public no longer trusts Obama and worries that a US-led peace process will result in the PA descending into chaos and going the way of Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Palestinian reality is not far from that assessment. The Fatah-Hamas split is as sharp as ever. Public protests against the PA over the past year reflect broad frustration over price hikes, unemployment, corruption and perceived regime weakness that nourish Hamas’s popularity. Abbas remains the unelected leader of the PA by fiat since his four-year term ended in 2010.

The public has long branded him “the mayor of Ramallah” for his limited authority and credibility.

Appointed PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has no Palestinian constituency and is a target of both Fatah and Hamas activists. Incitement against Israel’s existence continues unabated. Palestinian Media Watch recently reported on a children’s program on PA TV channel The Best Home that taught that Israel’s land belongs to the Palestinians and was “occupied” in 1948.

Palestinian behavior seems unconducive to taking part in an effective peace process, which is difficult even when both sides exhibit good will.

Despite their internal challenges, Obama can still prevail upon the Palestinians to stop the vicious incitement against Israel, stop refusing to negotiate peace with Israel, hold free and fair elections and stop threatening the US administration when it offers to help Palestinians achieve stable political independence.

The writer is a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is a former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress.


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