It is not enough to listen to both sides
Officials from the White House have stated that one of the reasons for Obama's visit is to reinforce US support for the PA.
A MAN in Ramallah walks past signs depicting US President Barack Obama, March 12 Photo: Ammar Awad/Reuters
Barack Obama is visiting the Middle East this week for the first time as US president since taking office in 2009. His last visit to the region was in 2008 as a US senator and presidential candidate.
Officials from the White House have stated that one of the reasons for his visit is to reinforce US support for the Palestinian Authority.
His visit comes at a time where peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine have long been barren in a frustrating cycle of impasse.
Since his last visit in 2008, the facts on the ground have seriously deteriorated, leaving many Palestinians without hope of change for improvement in their daily lives as an occupied people. The continued decline in the living conditions of the Palestinian people, coupled with ongoing disappointment and despondency from a lifeless peace process have left us with a very precarious situation.
With this in mind, there are several points President Obama should take into account when considering the hopes and expectations of the Palestinian people.
Firstly and above all, the Palestinian people are looking to the United States to reengage the peace process, calling for a strong, determined and direct engagement to revive negotiations.
It has become apparent time and again that negotiations will not reopen without the intervention of a third party.
As the only pragmatic third party with sufficient influence to mobilize change, the Palestinian people have long been looking to the United States to this end. It is time to draw the line and say enough is enough.
Consequently there needs to be a clear commitment by the US to ensure this process is advanced in the direction of a comprehensive peace treaty within the next six months with a mutually-agreed implementation period.
If the US is to be a trusted third party in the negotiations Obama must address the perceived favoritism toward Israel and Israeli society. Obama must raise and emphasize the Palestinian role in regional security in balancing US support for the two sides.
Prominence must be placed on Palestinians as a constructive partner to ending the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. It is imperative that this be conveyed not just to the leadership, but also to the people on the ground. After the countless setbacks and disappointments faced by the Palestinian people, confidencebuilding by the US is needed on a large scale. Obama should engage Palestinian society directly – one possibility could be visiting somewhere of particular significance for Palestinians – to show solidarity and unity directly with the people.
An ebullient show of camaraderie during his visits to Bethlehem or Ramallah could involve Obama having lunch at a traditional Palestinian falafel and hummus restaurant to build confidence and ties. Directly addressing the Palestinian public to reestablish America’s image as a neutral and equitable third party is long overdue. In particular, Obama should consider addressing Palestinian youth specifically, as key players in political and social change.
Furthermore, Palestinians are looking to see whether the US truly is an unbiased third party. To prove this the US will need to be perceptibly tougher on Israel, in particular for abuses of human rights and breaches of international law, not least in regard to settlements.
Palestinians want to see a US that keeps its donor commitments to the Palestinian Authority, rather than cutting or blocking funds on the whim of Israel or domestic lobbies. They want to see a US that sends a loud and clear message to Israel about the importance of diplomatic solutions over military ones. They want to see a US that helps facilitate the release of Palestinian prisoners, a crucial issue that cannot be underestimated as it touches the lives, and thus inflames the passions, of every single Palestinian.
Moreover, the US must recognize the harsh realities faced by Palestinians on a daily basis, comprising displacement, dispersal, occupation, daily humiliation and deep-rooted uncertainty. This includes the practices and policies implemented by Israel which see devastating demolition orders routinely placed upon Palestinian houses and the relentless settlement construction and expansion across the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The time to address core issues like borders is now.
Final status, namely Jerusalem, settlements and refugees, must be addressed without procrastination.
There can be no end to the conflict without achieving a just solution to the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees and by just saying: I will listen to both sides.
The writer is secretary of the Palestinian Cabinet.