As Obama visits Israel, Palestinians call on him to address ‘emergency situation’
Palestinians want President Barack Obama’s milestone visit this week to lead to a more active US approach to resolving the conflict with Israel, before the West Bank is overrun by Jewish settlements and it is too late for a two-state solution.
“We are in an emergency situation,” independent Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti told reporters in Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will host Obama on Thursday.
“We don’t have time,” Barghouti said. “Either the settlements are stopped immediately… or you can kiss the two-state solution goodbye.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman last week wrote that Obama, frustrated at the lack of progress to end the conflict, no longer had his heart in the challenge.
“Quietly, with nobody announcing it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats,” he wrote. “Obama could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist.”
Barghouti slammed the “passivity of the international community, especially the United States”, while Abbas’s government appealed to the world to back it financially and put pressure on Israel to end its “economic stranglehold” on Palestinians.
In a paper to a meeting of international donors in Brussels on Tuesday the Palestinian Authority urged “all international partners, particularly in the Arab region, to consider the implications of the current fiscal crisis and a possible shift towards institutional and political collapse”.
“Israel’s continued illegal occupation irreversibly forecloses the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state on the ground, making peace based on the two-state formula implausible, if not impossible.”
The document said November’s United Nations resolution recognising the Palestinians as a non-member observer state “has the potential to slightly level the playing field between Israel and Palestine”, noting that their new status would allow them to join international organisations and sign up to treaties.
Barghouti said that directly after Obama’s visit the Palestinians should renew their diplomatic offensive “starting with a letter to the Swiss president demanding the application to Palestine of all the Geneva Conventions” on humanitarian law.
“We should engage in all UN agencies… and of course to the International Criminal Court, especially with the continued settlement,” he added.
“Maybe some people think that because we need foreign aid, we will abandon our principles,” Barghouti said. “But most of the people out on the streets, especially young people who participate in the most noble non-violent resistance, do not benefit anyway.”
Obama is accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, who in February said he was intent on giving $700 million (540 million euros) in aid to the Palestinian Authority, $495 million of which has been blocked for months by Congress.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Friday that “an economically viable Palestinian Authority is in the interest not only of the Palestinians themselves but of regional peace and security”.
“I’m confident (the issue) will also come up on the president’s trip,” she added.