Anti-Obama Palestinian protesters 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
The state visit of US President Barack Obama to Israel comes at an important
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.