Barack Obama lifts then crushes Palestinian peace hopes

Secret papers reveal Palestinian frustration at lack of decisions but Middle East envoy warns against blaming US president

Ian Black and Seumas Milne

Barack Obama (right) meets Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu  

Barack Obama (right) meets Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu last year. Palestinians were angry when the US agreed to exempt Jerusalem from a settlement freeze. Photograph: Pool/Getty Images
The rise and rapid collapse of Palestinian hopes invested in Barack Obama are laid bare in graphic detail in the leaked documents. They make clear that PLO leaders continue to regard a string of far-reaching concessions as a negotiated package which remains on the table for the US and Israel to pick up.

“The deal is there,” the chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told the president’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, early in the new administration. “With it you can develop the ‘Obama plan’ with your associates in Europe … It is time for decisions.” Two years later a deal that includes compromises on territory, Jerusalem and refugees has yet to be taken up.
The Palestinian Authority’s great expectations of Obama were bolstered by the rapid appointment of Mitchell, the highly regarded veteran of the Northern Ireland peace process. They soared in June 2009 when Obama made his long-heralded speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.
But the circumstances were disastrous from the moment he was inaugurated on 20 January, two days after the Gaza war ended. The Israeli devastation of Gaza, Palestinian officials noted, “evokes not only anger, but among many, a critical reassessment of the wisdom of seeking peace through negotiations with Israel.”.
The Annapolis negotiations, which had run into the sand by the end of 2008, “have also been pronounced dead – their failure due essentially to Israel’s refusal to negotiate the two-state solution in good faith … Confidence on the Palestinian street, with respect to its leadership, towards Israel, and the international community as a whole, is at an all-time low.”
The following month Israeli elections produced a rightwing Likud-led coalition with no majority for a two-state solution and a commitment to expanding settlements in occupied territories. Palestinian leaders responded by demanding a freeze, including of all “natural growth”. These were “not Palestinian preconditions, but Israeli obligations”, President Mahmoud Abbas was briefed to tell Obama in May.


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