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Will Obama act in Palestine’s interest?

An increasing number of observers believe that the US president is emerging free from the pressures of the election and the Congress in the midst of the battle for American presidency

Gulf News

United States President Barack Obama is likely to end his term with a heavy feeling as a result of his failure to invigorate the Israeli-Palestinian stalled peace process, an issue that figured high on his agenda during his eight years in office. Reading through available information and a varied number of political reports, it seems that the Obama administration is working (most probably through France) towards ending its term with at least an offer to lay down a new political foundation to breathe life in the peace process. Such a move has been supported by recent statements issued by the White House holding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “responsible for the failure” to move ahead with the process.

Obama is struggling — as we are told — during his remaining days in the White House to push ahead for a political “settlement” in a bid to prepare the ground for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on what is termed by his administration as the “Israeli-Palestinian settlement issue”. We hear in the news that the US administration is probably working to prepare the ‘ideological’ diplomatic and legitimate ground for Washington to refrain from using the veto in the Council against a draft plan that would create a new foundation to energize the peace process, one that could be less convenient to Israel. It is said that current deliberations in the US administration revolve around a draft resolution that will be presented to the Security Council in the period between November, 2016 and January, 2017 which marks the period between the presidential elections and the inauguration of the new president, a period that will be free of any election pressures or considerations.

Indications of such moves have appeared since the beginning of this year. As Israel announced new plans to build or expand Jewish colonies, the US State Department spokesman, John Kirby, issued unusually strong-worded statement saying Washington is aware of a report of Israel’s government intention to build more housing units in the existing “settlements” [colonies] in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. He said “if it is true, this report would be the latest step in what seems to be the systematic process of land seizures, settlement [colony] expansions and legalisation of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. We oppose steps like these that we believe are counterproductive”.

A further statement followed by the new State Department Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau who openly criticised Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in the Hebron village of Sossiya. She said the US administration is deeply concerned by such measures that will cause immense harm to Palestinian residents of the area. The next day, Trudeau criticised Israel’s plans to find a solution to the Amona (illegal) colony by transplanting it in another area through the seizure of a privately-owned Palestinian land.

An increasing number of observers believe that Obama — with such unusual statements from American officials, particularly on the issue of colonies — is emerging free of the election and pressures of the Congress in the midst of the battle for presidency. He is also ignoring a possibility that Republican candidate Donald Trump may use such statements to point to “mistreatment of Israel” by the Democrats, in the hope of winning their votes — especially those of the Jews in America. Although around 200,000 Israeli-Americans living in Israel usually vote for the Republicans, a recent report by CNN indicated that a majority of them, with a margin of 16 per cent, will vote in favour of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton despite feverish attempts by the Trump campaign, which made it a point to open its first office outside the US in Israel. It also looks certain that the Obama administration is still convinced that the Democrat candidate usually wins the support of most of the American Jews, especially in the wake of a series of divisions among them over the past few years.

Zaki Shalom, Israeli researcher at the Institute of National Security Studies, wrote saying that it is the responsibility of the Israeli government to be aware of the “gravity of the moment and its serious implications in the long run” that may follow the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution in the light of a new strategic political situation, which certainly will not be reversed or reformed and is totally uncomfortable to Israel. Under the current conditions, he said, the Israeli government should exert intensive efforts to reach understandings with the Obama administration on the issues of the peace process and Jewish colonies in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. While it is unwise to be overoptimistic that the Obama administration will put pressure on Israel in favour of the Palestinian people, one still wonders whether he will actually do it or is it just a confused dream?

— Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia

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