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Obama, Ask Netanyahu Straight Out: Do You Believe in the Two-state Solution?

Honoring the Palestinian people's rights, as per international law,would undoubtedly be the main stabilizing factor for the region.

By Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh

U.S. President Barack Obama is due to meet Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu on Monday at the White House. The meeting comes as Obamacloses his seventh year in office. Many things have happened since hishistoric Cairo speech where Obama announced a "new beginning" inrelations between the United States and the Arab world. In his speech,Obama stated: "The situation for the Palestinian people isintolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimatePalestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of theirown."

These words resonated deeply with our people, creating the conditionswhereby the spirit of "yes we can" that brought Obama to office becamethe talk of the Palestinian people. This hope soon turned into despairand the optimism of Obama's first years in office slowly but steadilyfaded.

Undoubtedly Obama has achieved important milestones in his foreignpolicy. He opened up to Cuba and started the process of normalizingrelations after decades of boycotts and blockades. He also reached anagreement with Iran on its nuclear program, a historic agreementproviding for the possibility of future cooperation between variouscontentious players in the Middle East.

In both these cases, Obama was determined and did not waver when facedwith powerful lobbies and voices supporting the strangulation of theCuban people and those calling for yet another war in the Middle East.Nevertheless, U.S. policy vis-a-vis Palestine over the past sevenyears hasn't achieved a just and lasting peace, despite the intensiveand well-intentioned efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry.

But Obama still has 15 months to show the Arab world that the initialempathy shown for the injustices suffered by the Palestinian peoplecould be translated into effective policy to end decades of foreignoccupation, injustice and humiliation. To do that, and after the sevenyears that have passed, I believe Obama should ask direct andclear-cut questions to Netanyahu during his visit.

First, Obama should ask a basic question: Mr. Prime Minister, do yousupport the two-state solution or do you want to continue controllingthe lives of millions of Palestinians? In Netanyahu's mind, Palestinians can live under the effective control of Israel whileremaining noncitizens -- meaning they will remain in their small andconfined areas of autonomy with unequal access to water and noeffective control or sovereignty. And they will be living under onestate with two systems; in other words, an apartheid regime.

Second, Obama should ask Netanyahu if he is willing to implement thepreviously signed agreements including the full cessation of illegalsettler-colony expansion, the release of Palestinian prisoners as peragreements, the reopening of Palestinian institutions in EastJerusalem, and the dismantling of the Israeli army's so-called CivilAdministration.

Third, Obama should ask if Israel is finally willing to define itsborders and put a map on the negotiating table.

Obama will soon realize there can be no serious talk about twosovereign states living side by side in peace and security withNetanyahu. The prime minister simply does not believe in theimportance of historical reconciliation between both peoples; on thecontrary, Netanyahu has worked all his life to negate Palestinianrights and undermine the peace process.

The United States should make up its mind. It could either continuethe current path of granting Israel legal and diplomatic impunityregardless of its continuous crimes and violations, or it could takebold steps like supporting UN Security Council resolutions on illegalIsraeli settlements, ending the occupation and fully recognizing theState of Palestine based on the 1967 border, joining the 137 nationsthat have recognized Palestine.

At the same time, we need a paradigm shift, since the old formulasclearly have not worked. The United States should work with moreinternational partners to implement a new multilateral setting forMiddle East peace. If there was a Geneva Conference for Iran, with thesuccessful 5+1 formula (the permanent members of the UN SecurityCouncil and Germany), why shouldn't there be an internationalconference for Palestine, including the Quartet, Arab countries andother international players?

The Palestinian people, including our refugees in countries such asSyria and Lebanon, need answers to their demands. They are not part ofthe problem but a mandatory part of any solution. Honoring theirrights, as per international law, would undoubtedly be the mainstabilizing factor for the region. The promises made in the Cairospeech to the Arab and Muslim world haven't been implemented, and thehope has been turned into despair, especially in the streets ofJerusalem.

But Obama still has 15 months to put things on track. After hismeeting with Netanyahu he should be able to move ahead with moreclarity and determination toward the establishment of a sovereignPalestinian state, an aim that has been defined as an American"national security interest."

President Obama, "yes you can" carry out your promise to bring justice, peace and security to the Holy Land and defeat the cycle ofviolence and extremism in the region. That would be your legacy forgenerations to come.

Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh is a member of the Fatah Central Committee andminister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Developmentand Reconstruction (PECDAR).

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Publication:Palestine News Network (West Bank, Palestine)
Date:Nov 8, 2015
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