Christian Science Monitor - As President Obama arrived in Ramallah for a short visit today, he faced widespread disillusionment that America has the ability or willingness to be a fair arbiter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – even with a historic leader at its helm, who has sought to fashion himself after Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the freedom they espoused.
...Four years ago, Obama’s team came out swinging, demanding a complete Israeli freeze to settlement building as a precondition to renewed negotiations. Israel agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze, but negotiations with the Palestinians never got off the ground. Today Obama reiterated that he and his predecessors did not consider settlement activity “to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace,” but he implied that demanding another settlement freeze could simply delay negotiations on the real issues without building any trust.
“Let’s not put the cart before the horse,” he said. “If the only way to even begin the conversations is that we get everything right at the outset … then we’re never going to get to the broader issue – which is how do you actually structure a state of Palestine that is sovereign, contiguous, and provides the Palestinian people dignity, and how do you provide Israel confidence about its security, which are the core issues.”
Israel, a country of 7 million and a key strategic partner of the US on military and intelligence matters in the Middle East, has long been the No. 1 recipient of US foreign aid, receiving roughly $3 billion a year. The PA gets about $500 million annually.
....Rashid Khalidi, author of the recent book “Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East,” was part of the Palestinian delegation that worked to end Israel’s occupation and create a Palestinian state leading up to the 1993 Oslo Accords. He says that at every turn the Americans would defer to Israel on key issues, such as Israeli security control of any eventual Palestinian state, Israeli control over Jerusalem, and Israeli control of water.
“You couldn’t talk about anything that broke that ceiling,” says Prof. Khalidi, who teaches modern Arab studies at Columbia University in New York. “The Americans would not go beyond Israel on these issues.”
The Palestinians were relegated to negotiating the terms of Israeli control of water, land, and the continuing occupation, he says.
“These are the details of the cage you’re in,” says Khalidi, “How fat the bars are, how wide a space between the bars, how large a window you have, how big the slot is through which you get your food.”