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Palestinians Fuming at Obama By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 09, 2008

When Barack Obama took the stage before the AIPAC convention last  Wednesday, no one expected him to say the sorts of things Jeremiah Wright or Rashid Khalidi might have said. Still, he got himself—at least temporarily—in hot water with the Palestinians and seemingly even further aggravated the status he had earlier ascribed to them as the world’s most suffering people.

Saeb Erekat, adviser to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and longtime Palestinian TV advocate, especially took umbrage at Obama’s statement that “Jerusalem must remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided” and said Obama had “shut all of the doors on achieving peace.”

Erekat added that “We are very disappointed. Obama failed to understand that without East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, no peace will be achieved with Israel.”

As for Abbas himself, he responded to Obama with a televised speech that same night and said Obama’s Jerusalem statement was “totally rejected. The whole world knows that holy Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital….”

Abbas went even further, calling for a renewed dialogue with Hamas—specifically a “national dialogue to implement the Yemeni initiative in all its elements, to end the internal division that harms our people, (our) cause.” He was referring to last March’s Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks in Sana’a, Yemen, which yielded a draft agreement before bogging down.

If these new talks succeeded, Abbas added, “I will call for new legislative and presidential elections.”

Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu in Gaza was quick to respond, saying that “We welcome this call by President Abbas to launch a national dialogue, and we consider it a positive step.”

A few comments are in order:

1. In calling for a united Jerusalem Obama was performing what has been a ritual for U.S. presidential candidates.

In his 1992 campaign Bill Clinton said: “I recognize Jerusalem as an undivided city, the eternal capital of Israel, and I believe in the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” As president he used his congressional waiver to avoid moving the embassy, and in 2000 he lent his auspices to Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer of East Jerusalem and the Old City to Yasser Arafat at Camp David. To be sure, in this he was going along with Barak’s initiative, though it prompted the unraveling of Barak’s governing coalition and was opposed by a large majority of Israelis.

And in his 2000 campaign George W. Bush—also at an AIPAC conference—promised he would immediately “begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.” As president, of course, he did no such thing and in recent years his secretary of state has been severely hectoring Israel over building apartments in what she considers proscribed parts of Jerusalem.

Based on this record, then, the Palestinians need not have gotten so upset by Obama’s statement and Jews should be reining in the applause.

2. Although Abbas’s call for renewed dialogue with Hamas seems particularly brazen, he made it because, first, he means it, having already started a tour of Arab capitals to test the waters; and second, because he knows he can get away with it. After all, Abbas has already done a lot more than just flirt with Hamas, having formed with it a unity government just last year before Hamas subverted it in a Gaza coup.

For an analogy one would have to imagine Lebanon’s President Fouad Siniora or Jordan’s King Abdullah merging and allying with Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood—or even threatening to do so. Those leaders earn their reputation as relative moderates in part because they don’t do such things. No such stringencies apply to Abbas, whom President Bush called a “man of peace and vision” just last April despite his having allied with Hamas and frequent threats to do so again.

Note also Abbas’s reference to “holy Jerusalem” despite his image as the “secular” foil to Hamas and brazenly misleading statement that Jerusalem was “occupied in 1967” even though in actuality Israel asked Jordan to stay out of the war and captured East Jerusalem only when instead Jordan fired artillery salvos at the western, Israeli part of the city.

3. The Palestinians didn’t, of course, give Obama much credit for also saying that “The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper”—in part because he added that “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders.”

Based on precedent, this standard rhetorical attempt to square the circle—a contiguous Palestinian state not being compatible with Israel’s security or with defensible borders—is much more likely than his Jerusalem avowal to be the operative part of Obama’s view. Taken together with his ominous background, it’s a grim prospect.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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