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Columnist Says Obama Screwed Up on Peace Push

Arab Israeli ‘Jerusalem Post’ writer blames Palestinian leadership, too

Jordan Chandler Hirsch
October 19, 2009

Jerusalem Post Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu-Toameh, the most prominent Arab Israeli newspaper columnist, spoke at Columbia University last night and, interestingly, placed the least blame for the current stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the Netanyahu government. Instead, Abu-Toameh faults President Barack Obama and the Palestinian leadership.

“He made three crucial mistakes,” Abu-Toameh said of Obama in an interview after his talk. “The first was manufacturing a crisis out of the settlements issue; the Palestinian Authority never made an issue of the settlements until Obama demanded a full freeze. The second mistake was dragging [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas to New York to meet with Obama and Bibi on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly—that was a humiliation for Abbas because the Friday before the meeting Abbas had announced he unequivocally that he would not restart the peace process until all settlement activity had been frozen. Then the third mistake came with the Goldstone Report scandal, when the Americans forced Abbas to pull the Goldstone petition from the U.N., and then the story leaked. So this administration has wrecked Abbas’s reputation and credibility.”

Abu-Toameh argued during his speech that demands that Israel leave the West Bank don’t help, either. “Fatah has an interest in keeping Israel in the West Bank because Israel is doing its job by cracking down on Hamas there.” If Israel were to disengage, he noted, “the place would fall apart, and Hamas would win an election in the West Bank.” The top priority in an attempt to restore peace negotiations, Abu-Toameh said, needs to be political reconciliation among the Palestinians. “Instead of putting all the pressure on Bibi, I would go to the Palestinians and say, reunite the West Bank and Gaza, establish good government, speak in one voice, then go talk to the Jews about peace.”

Jordan Chandler Hirsch is staff editor at Foreign Affairs.