The central thrust of Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East was to re-start talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the basis of ‘security in exchange for territory’.
His words went further than US officials have recently. The conflict has already dragged on for decades.
“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states,” the president said.
Those words, immediately rejected by Israel, have pleased many Palestinians. But some in Ramallah in the West Bank remain sceptical because the right of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to return has been put on the back burner. And that has been a long-standing Palestinian demand.
“We’re not able to live properly, to buy a house or have a home because we are refugees,” said Nafez Ezzat from Ramallah. “Land that they (the Israelis) are enjoying living on, land occupied in 1948, is our land, it is land that our parents and grandparents can still prove they own.”
Obama also spoke of the potential problems signalled by the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah signed recently in Cairo.
“The recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel,” he said. “How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognise your right to exist?”
Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by the US, said the reconciliation is none of the American president’s business.
“We reiterate that Palestinian reconciliation is an internal Palestinian concern and that the negotiations with the occupation have proved to be futile,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “Hamas will not recognise the Israeli occupation under any condition.”
Obama’s failure to stop the expansion of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank has dampened the hopes raised among Palestinians two years ago. And in his speech, there were also difficult words to accept.
“For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimise Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state,” Obama said.
That was a nudge aimed at the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop his attempt to have Palestine recognised as a state at the UN General Assembly later this year.
The move is doomed to fail anyway. The US can use its security council veto.