Creating new perspectives since 2009

Abbas pilgrimage to Washington is postponed

January 24, 2014 at 2:12 pm

The view of “Al-Quds”

US President Barack Obama has invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an official visit to Washington on the 1 June. The date for a similar visit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has still to be decided.

A White House spokesman said that the Netanyahu visit is intended to help “speed up” the peace process, but newspaper reports claim that it is America’s attempt to “mend fences” after what was seen as a snub of the Israeli PM on his last visit. It is also probably related to the heightened tension between Israel and Lebanon, and talk of a possible US strike on Iran.

The peace process in the region is still uncertain, and President Abbas has said that any progress depends upon the Israeli leadership. Many have interpreted this as a sign of faltering indirect negotiations sponsored by Senator George Mitchell, the American peace envoy.

It is clear that great pressure is being placed on the Palestinian side, as the weaker party, to accept the Israeli terms and return to the table of direct negotiations, without waiting until all settlement expansion has been frozen, especially in Jerusalem. News that the European Union intends to link aid payments to the Palestinians to progress in negotiations is evidence of the pressures on Mahmoud Abbas. It is significant that the EU is targeting the Palestinians for this link and not the Israelis, whose delaying tactics and obstacles to peace are ignored.

Of course, it is unlikely that the Europeans would have done this without instructions from Washington. Using aid as a lever against the PA confirms that the EU is serious about forcing the PA back to negotiations, either indirect or direct. It is also keen to make sure that aid is not stopped as the PA would be unable to pay employees’ salaries, which would upset Washington. The Palestinian Authority has become a prisoner of the financial assistance it receives from the US and Europe to the extent that the Palestinians are now one of the biggest “begging nations” dependent on aid for survival.

We do not know what President Obama will tell his Israeli guest when he arrives at the White House, as the last meeting between them was tense due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pledge a complete freeze on settlements in occupied Jerusalem and there is little evidence that his position on this has changed. Settlement development is ongoing, as is the demolition of houses in the occupied Arab areas of the Holy City. As such, Obama’s invitation has to be seen as a climb down by the US president, as his conditions for the peace process to go ahead have not been met   indeed, they have been refused   by Israel.

It may well be that America’s priorities have changed with Iran stepping up to pole position, closely followed by the tensions between Israel and Hezbollah on one hand, and Israel and Syria on the other. However, the US and Israel share identical positions on those issues; any differences are minor.

Perhaps the date for President Abbas to visit Washington depends on how the talks with Netanyahu develop. Whatever happens, it is sad that the Palestinians’ role in the peace process is regarded as secondary by the US in this way. It is, after all, Palestine’s future existence at stake. But then again, we should not be too surprised; after all, the liberation movement has become a begging movement, and beggars can’t be choosers.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.