Abbas’ Delayed Pilgrimage to Washington

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be visiting Washington on June 1st in response to an invitation from President Barack Obama; however, consultations for a similar visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have yet to be finalized.

The White House spokesperson says that the Israeli prime minister is visiting in order to “accelerate” the peace process. It is clear, however, that there are other reasons behind this visit, including perhaps the tensions on the Israeli-Lebanese front and the increasing talk of a possible American strike against Iran.

The regional peace process continues to be characterized by vagueness. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated that any progress in the peace talks rests on Israeli leadership, and many read this as a sign that indirect negotiations overseen by U.S. peace envoy Sen. George Mitchell have ground to a halt.

It is clear that the Palestinian side, as it is considered the weaker of the two, is under great pressure to accept Israeli conditions and dictates, and to then return to the direct negotiations table. All of these demands are being placed on the Palestinians without the Israeli side having to fulfill its part of the deal by freezing all types of settlement building, including those within occupied Jerusalem.

A clear indication of the various types of pressures on the Palestinian Authority is evidenced in recent news reports where the E.U.’s determination to deliver financial assistance is conditioned on progress in negotiations. It is also further evidence that the pressure is targeted solely toward the Palestinian side while the obstacles laid by the Israelis are being deliberately ignored. The Palestinian Authority has become a slave to American and European financial aid. Because of this, the Palestinian people are now the most desperate of all societies, depending on donor countries for their survival.

We don’t know what President Obama will say to his Israeli guest when he arrives at the White House. The last meeting between the two was lukewarm at best due to Netanyahu’s refusal to promise a complete freeze of settlement building in occupied Jerusalem. We don’t believe that Netanyahu’s position has changed. Settlement building continues, as does the demolition of houses in occupied Arab Jerusalem.

Obama’s invitation to the Israeli prime minister after the last tense meeting, and the prime minister’s continued hard-line refusal to a complete settlement freeze, reflects a setback for the U.S. president who has been unable to influence Israeli acceptance of conditions in the peace process. Perhaps the priorities of the American administration have changed: The issue of Iran has become more serious in light of intensified Israeli and Iranian military exercises and Israel has been increasing its threats against Hezbollah and Syria. The American and Israeli positions are united on how to deal with these issues, and any differences between the two countries are only secondary.

The absence of a set date for President Abbas — the less important party — to visit Washington gives support to the conclusion that U.S. priorities have shifted. Whether or not the Abbas visit occurs depends directly on what happens in the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu.

It’s sad to see the Palestinian role being marginalized in a process designed to deal with the country’s future, but this is unsurprising considering that a “liberation movement” has been transformed into a begging movement.

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