The summit meeting between President Obama with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in New York yesterday might have been necessary. But for serious negotiations to resolve the decades long Middle East conflict a much more robust US involvment is needed. Washington can’t be neutral anymore and must announce which party is holding up progress.
It is always good when senior U.S. officials take personal interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. God knows that the two parties have failed miserably in trying to solve the conflict between them. If any party is able to bridge the gap it is the U.S. And if anyone in Washington can move this deadlocked conference, the president is certainly the one to do that.
But this summit comes at a time that the Israelis have refused to fulfill their responsibilities as stated in the Road Map, ironically which have been encoded in a security council resolution. The road map lays out clear responsibilities on both Israelis and Palestinians. In Phase I, Palestinians are expected to take care of the security situation, on the other hand Israel is supposed to suspend all its settlement activities "including natural growth" and return the status of the Palestinian territories to the pre-October 2000 situation.
Since 2000 Israel has set up nearly 500 different manned and unmanned checkpoints suffocating Palestinian business and life by making it difficult to move goods and people throughout the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians, with strong advice and support from the American General Dayton have had impressive results in meeting their security obligations. Senior Israeli Army officials have publicly admitted to the improved security situation in the West Bank.
With security dramatically improving, the rule of law in Palestinian areas is starting to take shape. Palestinian Prime Minsiter Salam Fayyad’s pro active approach has ensured that Palestinians begin in fact taking control over their own social, economic and civilian affairs. He has publicized his government’s two year plan to declare a defacto Palestinian state whether or not negotiations lead to an end of the Israeli occupation.
Ever since President Obama took office, he lifted the Palestinian Israeli conflict by appointing a special envoy, former senator George Mitchell. President Obama in numerous statements, the latest of which was his speech in cairo publicly stated the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements and called on Israel to fulfill its obligations in the Road Map by freeze any further settlement activity as a prelude to the restart of negotiations.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has praised the U.S. president’s public requests on both parties to honor their commitments and has insisted on the need for Israel to fulfill their obligation to freeze settlement activities. Senior Palestinian negotiators repeated insisted that this was not a Palestinian demand but an international obligation on Israel. Palestinians insisted that their can be no compromise on this issue.
Mahmoud Abbas, himself, has a strong reason to insist on this issue. Back in 1993 Israeli leaders refused Palestinian demands on a total settlement freeze, saying that it is not important since in five years the occupied territories will become part of the Palestinian state. Palestinian statehood never materialized, Israeli leader Rabin was assassinated and since 1993 the number of settlers living in the occupied territories has doubled.
Months of shuttle diplomacy has failed to get the Israeli government to agree to freeze settlement activities. In fact, a rush to add more exclusive Jewish houses in occupied Palestinian territories seem to have increased because of the potential of a possible freeze.
When the Washington called and asked Palestinians to attend a three party summit, Ramallah had little choice but to agree. Palestinian leaders were not about to deny a request from the Obama White House even though such a decision makes Palestinians to appear that they have capitulated to Israel and its refusal to freeze its illegal settlement activity.
U.S. President Barack Obama will have his photo opportunity despite the obvious Israeli disregard to demands of the international community in respect to the Road Map. While Obama, Abbas and Netanyahu are posing for the photos, President Obama should use the presence of the press to state what the Road Map obliges the Quartet to do. Publicly point his finger to the party which has not fulfilled its obligation to the international will.