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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Political Parry and Obama's very noisy silence on Israel/Palestine

I was intrigued to see a blog called Political Parry claiming that, on his recent state visit to the UK: "Obama did not mention Palestine/Israel at all in his speeches, and neither did Cameron. It would have had an effect on their "essential relationship"." I have attempted to post a comment on Political Parry to explain that this is not true - the President and the Prime Minister amply mentioned Israel/Palestine at their joint press conference; Mr Obama also mentioned it in his speech to Parliament. For the record, at the press conference, President Obama said: 
And at a time when so many in the region are casting off the burdens of the past, we agree that the push for a lasting peace that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.  I appreciate the Prime Minister’s support for the principles that I laid out last week on borders and security, which can provide a sound basis from which the two sides can negotiate.
My goal, as I set out in the speech I gave last week, is a Jewish state of Israel that is safe and secure and recognized by its neighbors, and a sovereign state of Palestine in which the Palestinian people are able to determine their own fate and their own future.  I am confident that can be achieved.  It is going to require wrenching compromise by both sides.
Over the last decade, when negotiators have talked about how to achieve that outcome, there have been typically four issues that have been raised.  One is the issue of what would the territorial boundaries of a new Palestinian state look like?  Number two, how could Israel feel confident that its security needs were being met?  Number three, how would the issue of Palestinian refugees be resolved?  And number four, the issue of Jerusalem.
The last two questions are extraordinarily emotional.  They go deep into how both the Palestinians and the Jewish people think about their own identities.  Ultimately they are going to be resolved by the two parties.  I believe that those two issues can be resolved if there is the prospect and the promise that we can actually get to a Palestinian state and a secure Jewish state of Israel.
And what my speech did was to say, let’s begin the work with the very hard-nosed but transparent and less -- perhaps less emotional issues of what would the territorial boundaries look like and what would Israeli security requirements entail.
And I believe that if the Palestinians and the Israelis begin talking about those two issues and get some resolution, they can start seeing on the horizon the possibility of a peace deal, they will then be in a position to have a -- what would be a very difficult conversation about refugees and about Jerusalem.
That’s not something that any party from the outside is going to be able to impose on them.  But what I am absolutely certain of is that if they’re not talking, we’re not going to make any progress, and neither the Israeli people or the Palestinian people will be well served.
Let me just make one more comment about the prospects for a serious peace negotiation.  The Israelis are properly concerned about the agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas.  Hamas has not renounced violence.  Hamas is an organization that has thus far rejected the recognition of Israel as a legitimate state.  It is very difficult for Israelis to sit across the table and negotiate with a party that is denying your right to exist, and has not renounced the right to send missiles and rockets into your territory.
So, as much as it’s important for the United States, as Israel’s closest friend and partner, to remind them of the urgency of achieving peace, I don’t want the Palestinians to forget that they have obligations as well.  And they are going to have to resolve in a credible way the meaning of this agreement between Fatah and Hamas if we’re going to have any prospect for peace moving forward.
As for the United Nations, I’ve already said -- I said in the speech last week and I will repeat -- the United Nations can achieve a lot of important work.  What the United Nations is not going to be able to do is deliver a Palestinian state.  The only way that we’re going to see a Palestinian state is if Israelis and Palestinians agree on a just peace.
And so I strongly believe that for the Palestinians to take the United Nations route rather than the path of sitting down and talking with the Israelis is a mistake; that it does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people, it will not achieve their stated goal of achieving a Palestinian state.  And the United States will continue to make that argument both in the United Nations and in our various meetings around the world. 
I believe that Hamas, in its own description of its agenda, has not renounced violence and has not recognized the state of Israel.  And until they do, it is very difficult to expect Israelis to have a serious conversation, because ultimately they have to have confidence that a Palestinian state is one that is going to stick to its -- to whatever bargain is struck; that if they make territorial compromises, if they arrive at a peace deal, that, in fact, that will mean the safety and security of the Jewish people and of Israel.  And Hamas has not shown any willingess to make the kinds of concessions that Fatah has, and it’s going to be very difficult for us to get a Palestinian partner on the other side of the table that is not observing the basic Quartet principles that we both believe -- that both David and I believe in -- the need to renounce violence, recognize the state of Israel, abide by previous agreements.
At the same press conference, Mr Cameron said:
 ...we must reach a conclusion to the Arab-Israel peace process.  Again, I congratulated the President on his recent speech on the Middle East, which was bold, it was visionary, and it set out what is needed in the clearest possible terms -- an end to terror against Israelis and the restoration of dignity to the Palestinians; two states living side by side and in peace.
Yes, the road has been, and will be, long and arduous, but the prize is clear.  Conclude the peace process and you don’t just bring security to the region; you deny extremists one of their most profound and enduring recruiting sergeants, weakening their calling and crippling their cause.  That is why whatever the difficulties, we must continue to press for a solution. 
I described the President’s speech as bold and visionary because I think it did an absolutely vital thing, which was to talk about ’67 borders with land swaps.  So as the President said, if you think about what both sides absolutely need to know to start this process, those two things are in place.
First, that the Israelis need to know that America and her allies like Britain will always stand up for Israel’s right to exist, right to defend herself, right to secure borders.  That is absolutely vital that the Israelis know that their security is absolutely key to us.  They need to know that.
But the second thing that needs to be done is the Palestinians need to know that we understand their need for dignity and for a Palestinian state, using the ’67 borders as land swaps as the start point.  That is I think what is so key to the speech that’s been made.  So neither side now has I believe the excuse to stand aside from talks.
On the specific issue of U.N. recognition, the President is entirely right that in the end the Palestinian state will only come about if the Palestinians and the Israelis can agree to it coming about.  That is the vital process that has to take place.
As for Britain, we don’t believe the time for making a decision about the U.N. resolution -- there isn’t even one there at the moment -- is right yet.  We want to discuss this within the European Union and try and maximize the leverage and pressure that the European Union can bring, frankly, on both sides to get this vital process moving.
Both of us in recent days have been to the Republic of Ireland.  I went on part of the Queen’s historic trip, and I know Barack has just returned from a very successful trip.  And when you look at what had to happen in Northern Ireland in order for peace to come about, is there has to be some recognition and understanding on each side of the other side.
And that is what I think is so crucial in what the President is saying about Hamas and Palestinian unity -- which should in some ways be a welcome development if the Palestinians can have one group of people, but not unless those group of people are prepared to accept some of what the people they’re going to negotiate with desperately need.
And that, in the end, is why the peace process in Northern Ireland was successful, because both sides had some understanding of what the other side needed for some dignity and for some peace.  And that is what we badly need right now in the Middle East.  And I think the President’s speech has been a good step forward in really helping to make that happen.
I have rarely heard such a noisy silence as that observed by President Obama and David Cameron on the subject of Israel/Palestine in London last week.

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