In US election year, Palestinians sidelined (AP) Associated Press) By KARIN LAUB RAMALLAH 03/09/12 3:54 pm ET)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank – President Barack Obama has told the
Palestinians to sit tight during a U.S. election year, while holding
out the promise of a serious push for Palestinian statehood if he
wins a second term, the Palestinian foreign minister said Friday.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman insisted Washington remains
engaged, though U.S officials, speaking on condition of anonymity due
to the sensitivity of the diplomacy, said the peace process is bogged
down and prospects for resuming even low-level exploratory talks are
It may be politically risky for Abbas to be seen as just marking time
The Palestinian public is increasingly impatient with deadlock on all
fronts, and Abbas could score points by reconciling with his longtime
rival Hamas. But an alliance with the Islamic militants, who seized
control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas´ Palestinian Authority in 2007,
could upset the U.S. and hurt a statehood bid later. Israel has
already warned that it won´t negotiate a statehood deal if Abbas
forges a coalition with an unreformed Hamas.
For now, Abbas appears to have his hands full just keeping the
Palestinian issue from fading away — or being steamrolled by internal
The Palestinians have watched in dismay as Republican candidates,
eager to please Jewish donors and voters, appeared to compete over
who is more pro-Israel: At one point Newt Gingrich, backed
financially by an ardently Zionist Jewish billionnaire, called the
Palestinians "an invented people." Obama himself struck what was
perceived as a pro-Israel tone in recent weeks.
The challenge goes beyond the U.S. election. The Palestinians´
traditional Arab allies are preoccupied with the Arab Spring
uprisings transforming the region. Europe is struggling with a
painful euro zone crisis. And there is mounting concern about a
possible Israel-Iran war over Tehran´s suspected attempts to obtain
The Iran issue dominated the White House meeting between Obama and
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, serving as a
reminder to the Palestinians that the world has little time for them
The Palestinians knew what they were in for as the U.S. headed into
the campaign, Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said in
"Everybody was telling us, including the Americans, ´don´t expect
that much from us during the election year because the president will
be focusing on how to be re-elected, and in order to do so, he should
really shift his attention ... to other issues,´" Malki said.
Asked whether Abbas holds out hope that Obama — if re-elected and
freed from some of his domestic political shackles — will push hard
for serious negotiations on Palestinian statehood, Malki said: "They
(the Americans) told us so."
He said the Obama administration asked Abbas to be patient until then.
State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Friday that "we
completely reject that characterization both of our views and the
message" to Palestinians and Israelis.
On Monday, the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., the European
Union, the U.N. and Russia — will meet in New York to review peace
efforts, but is not expected to issue a statement or come up with a
During more than three years in office, Obama failed to restart
negotiations that broke off in 2008. At the time, Abbas and
Netanyahu´s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, exchanged initial border
proposals, but ultimately failed to close the gaps before Olmert
stepped down amid corruption allegations.
Abbas says he will only negotiate with Netanyahu if Israel freezes
settlement building on occupied lands and recognizes the pre-1967 war
lines as the starting point for talks on the borders of a future
Palestine. In that war, Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east
Jerusalem, the territories the Palestinians want for their state.
Netanyahu insists all disputes be addressed in negotiations,
As a next move, Abbas plans to send a letter to Netanyahu in coming
days, holding the Israeli prime minister responsible for the failure
to relaunch serious negotiations, Malki said. Copies of the letter
will be sent to foreign leaders and Mideast mediators.
Palestinian officials said the letters are a cry for attention. "It´s
a loud shout, to say we cannot continue like this," said Wasel Abu
Yousef of the PLO Executive Committee.
Malki said the letter will not contain a deadline for an Israeli
Earlier this week, Jordan´s foreign minister urged Abbas to avoid
language that could be seen as an ultimatum, a Palestinian official
said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to discuss internal discussions.
Abbas and his aides will meet after a certain period to review
Israel´s response to the letter, if there is one, Malki said. "It is
up to us to decide later how to proceed ... based on the reaction
from the Israeli leadership and based on the international
community´s reaction to that," he said.
The options include reviving last year´s stalled attempt to win full
U.N. membership through the Security Council or seeking the U.N.
General Assembly´s recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer
state, Malki said. He emphasized that nothing has been decided.
Malki said the Palestinian leadership would act responsibly, and
appeared to rule out desperate measures in coming months, such as
dissolving their self-rule government in parts of the West Bank.
Palestinian officials have also ruled out a return to large-scale
Abbas is under pressure at home to end the Palestinian political
split, which has weakened their statehood claim. After a breakthrough
last month, in which Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal agreed that Abbas
could lead an interim unity government until general elections are
held, both sides have hit the brakes.
Hamas leaders in Gaza lambasted Mashaal for making the deal without
consulting with them. And Abbas now says he won´t pull together a
transition government of politically independent technocrats unless
he can get Israeli assurances that the elections can be held in
Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said this week that Netanyahu
would not stand in the way of Palestinian elections. Malki said Abbas
has sought, but not received clear Israeli assurances through
Palestinian analyst George Giacaman said both Abbas and Hamas are
reluctant to move forward because they are unwilling to break with
their traditional allies. "If they reconcile completely, the first
thing the U.S Congress will do is not just to stop aid to the
Palestinians, but declare the PLO a terror organization if Hamas
joins," he said.
Malki said Abbas is moving cautiously.
"We are not going to rush things," he said.
_____ Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed
reporting. (© 2012 The Associated Press 03/09/12)
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