PA optimistic about hard-line US stance

Abbas: Obama extremely serious about peace; PA minister: We finally have a friend in White House.

abbas obama 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
abbas obama 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Reports about growing tensions between Jerusalem and Washington over the revival of the peace process in the Middle East are being hailed by many Palestinians as a sign of US President Barack Obama's determination to change American policy toward Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Obama in Washington last week, was quoted as saying he had emerged from the talks with a feeling that the new US administration was "extremely serious" about its intention to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict. Statements by Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Israel must halt construction in the settlements, including the expansion of these communities as a result of "natural growth," have been welcomed by many Palestinians as a turning point in Washington's strategy. "For the first time in many years, we are hearing different voices coming out of the White House," said a senior aide to Abbas. "We hope that the US administration will follow up on its statements with deeds on the ground." Asked what he meant by "deeds on the ground," the official explained: "Everyone knows that the US is the only country in the world that can impose its will on Israel. Obama has the means and power to force Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem, and to dismantle all the Jewish settlements." A PA cabinet minister told The Jerusalem Post that he was following "with deep satisfaction" news about the deepening crisis between the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration. "Looks like we finally have a friend in the White House who is sympathetic to the Arab cause," he said. "President Abbas returned from Washington with a good feeling, and we believe there is room for optimism." Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA president, said the Palestinians were particularly "encouraged" by Obama's apparent decision to abandon promises that former US president George W. Bush made to Israel, especially regarding the future of the settlements in the West Bank. Pointing out that Bush had permitted Israel to continue construction in major settlement blocs that are to remain under Israeli control in any final deal with the Palestinians, such as Gush Etzion, Abu Rudaineh said: "Bush's promises were illegitimate and in violation of the road map and United Nations resolutions pertaining to the Middle East conflict." Abu Rudaineh said that if Obama wanted the peace process to succeed, he must follow up on his statements with "practical measures." He added that this was the only way to avoid further instability and tensions in the region. Although the spokesman did not say what types of "practical measures" the Palestinians expected from Obama, it was obvious that he was referring to expectations that Washington withhold financial and military aid to Israel as a means of pressuring the Netanyahu government. Palestinian political analysts said they, too, were buoyed by Obama's firmness in dealing with the Netanyahu government. "The Americans can't afford to wait forever," said analyst Rajab Abu Sariyyeh. "Since 2000, the Americans have been very patient with Israel, with Bush giving Israel freedom in dealing with the Palestinian issue in its own way." Omar al-Ghul, a writer and adviser to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, said the Obama administration realized that peace in the Middle East was an American interest and not only an Israeli one. Another columnist, Ma'moun Fandi, urged the Arabs not to lose Obama. "The Arabs must try to win over Obama as a friend and not turn him into an enemy," he said. "We must take Obama's calls for dialogue with the Islamic world and his resolve to end the Israeli-Arab conflict seriously. We Arabs already have enough enemies in this world."