Wait And See In The Middle East
Yesterday's meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yielded little in public. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution, and pressed Israel to close settlements, while Netanyahu was obscure in his rhetoric, talking about a commitment to restart "peace talks" but more focused on the perceived threat from Iran. And he certainly didn't commit to stopping the settlement expansion, which disappointed Palestinian observers.
After meeting with President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was ready to begin peace negotiations with the Palestinians "immediately." But he also reiterated positions that seem to restrict the scope of those talks -- namely that he would accept only a limited form of Palestinian self-government and that any talks would have to include Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a "Jewish state."
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the conditions seemed to undermine any negotiations before they even started.
"There is a difference between being a tough negotiator and a non-negotiator. What I heard today was a non-negotiator," said Erekat, who added that Palestinians had been looking for Monday's meeting to produce some sense of progress -- whether a statement from Netanyahu about the restriction of settlements or on the establishment of a Palestinian state.
"He says that he wants me to govern myself by myself. I have one simple question: How can I do that when roadblocks are suffocating us in towns and refugee camps? When the army makes incursions wherever they want? When the demolition of homes continues?" Erekat said.
At the same time, in one of the more promising developments, Hamas has made overtures toward peace for the first time in its history.
Leaders of Hamas have begun reaching out to the West with conciliatory words, saying the Islamic militant group wants to be part of a Mideast solution and raising the possibility they would someday accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
In the most significant statement so far, Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal told British lawmakers recently that the group is open to "real peace." In Gaza, the Hamas government said last week it is ready to discuss "any approaches and proposals that can lead the region out of its current situation."
In a recent interview, Hamas lawmaker Yehiye Moussa said the group is "not demanding to destroy Israel." West Bank legislator Mahmoud Ramahi added that Hamas is ready to talk to the West — stressing the group has nothing in common with the virulently anti-Western al-Qaida.
Quite a reversal, when the partner for peace is in Palestine and not Israel. If Hamas can change its tone, surely Netanyahu can. But we don't know the extent of his commitment to peace, and what Obama has extracted from him.