Everyone remembers U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009, in which he proclaimed his solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. In it, he promised that the establishment of a Palestinian state would be at the top of his administration’s priorities.
At the time, he called for an end to Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. The pronouncement led Arab and Palestinian political elites to believe that the Obama administration would support the rights of the Palestinian people, something that was not done by any previous American administration.
That day, the Palestinian negotiator said he believed he would be “comfortable” negotiating with the Israeli side. If Obama’s speech were to be translated into practical terms, Tel Aviv would find itself under American pressure as a consequence of the context established by Washington.
Moreover, the Palestinian negotiator announced — for the first time since the start of negotiations 20 years ago — a call for a complete halt to settlements as a necessary precondition for talks.
It would seem, however, that he has not admitted to himself that this position has been less fruitful than the U.S. president’s speech.
Rather, he added a demand to determine the terms of the negotiations, thereby limiting the establishment of a Palestinian state to one based on the borders of June 4, 1967. It was on this limited foundation that the Palestinian negotiator felt ready to dive into “victorious negotiations.”
This confidence was bolstered on June 26, 2009, when the Quartet issued a statement urging the Israeli government to freeze all settlement activities, including natural growth, dismantle settlements built after March 2001 and refrain from provocative projects in East Jerusalem, including home demolition and evacuation.
For the first time since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came to power, pressure from the United States and other countries did not succeed in discouraging the Palestinians from pursuing their political momentum at the U.N.
In the end, a diplomatic battle finally broke out with expansionist occupation policies, but only after much critical time had passed while Palestinians waited on American efforts to bear fruit. They had mistakenly placed their trust in the U.S. ability to establish the necessary preconditions for the start of negotiations that could stand a chance of success.
With the Palestinian move, the American position has now reverted to its natural context. Washington exercised its veto in the Security Council against the draft Arab resolution condemning Israeli settlements. However, the anti-settlement initiative had broad international support.
The U.S. administration pushed vigorously before the voting session to convince the Palestinian side to withdraw the draft resolution and several world capitals made similar overtures.
Washington lobbied frantically to stop the vote. President Obama spoke at length by phone with President Abbas, offering major concessions for withdrawing the resolution. The offer included measures such as:
Publishing a strongly worded official statement by the U.S. administration about the settlements;
Washington’s agreement on setting up a delegation from the Security Council to visit the Palestinian Territories — although Russia had previously proposed the same thing and the U.S. had rejected it — and;
Publishing a statement by the Quartet in response to the Palestinian demands, explicitly condemning the settlements and recognizing the borders of June 4, 1967. Any such statement would also have guaranteed the security of the state of Israel.
The American position on the Palestinian question has not changed. As a result, Palestinians and Arabs chant in the streets: “America is what it is! America is the head of the serpent!”