The Palestinian group Hamas has reinforced its call for resistance against Israeli occupation amid an outcry in the Arab world after the Americans on Saturday backtracked from their earlier call that Israel should freeze all construction in occupied land before stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians could resume.
Senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan said that Washington’s stand proved the credibility of Hamas position that negotiations with the Israelis were “frivolous” and would lead to more Palestinian concessions, vulnerability and “begging at American tables”.
Mr. Radwan advised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiators to align themselves with the resistance and the Palestinian people instead of “chasing a mirage leading to more land annexation”.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had on Saturday urged resumption of Israel-Palestine talks without pressing on the issue of an Israeli settlement freeze. “There has never been a pre-condition. It’s always been an issue within the negotiations,” Ms. Clinton had said. However, in September, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was quoted as saying that in accordance with the position that President Barack Obama had adopted, “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge it to stop”.
On Sunday, Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib also heavily criticised the American position on talks. “I believe that the U.S. condones continued settlement expansion,” he said.
“Negotiations are about ending the occupation and settlement expansion is about entrenching the occupation.”
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also expressed his disappointment.
“If America cannot get Israel to implement a settlement freeze, what chance do Palestinians have of reaching agreement with Israel on permanent status issues?” he asked.
The shift in the U.S. position has persuaded Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan to issue a joint statement calling for an immediate halt to Israeli construction in occupied Palestinian areas. The two leaders “stressed the need for an immediate cessation of Israeli unilateral actions, particularly the building of settlements and jeopardising the identity of Jerusalem and holy places, which could only derail the chances of peace”. Egypt and Jordan have been close U.S. allies, and are the only two countries in the Arab world which have officially signed peace treaties with Israel.
A hard-hitting editorial in the Saudi Arabian daily, Arab News slammed Washington for abandoning its earlier position on halting settlements.
“By refraining from exercising any level of pressure on Tel Aviv to halt settlements, Washington has in effect approved this policy, leaving Palestinian negotiators with nothing to discuss in any future peace talks,” the daily observed. The newspaper described Israeli settlement policy as “an illegitimate land grab, the size of which transgresses anything seen in the past”.
Akiva Eldar, the chief political commentator of Israel’s Haaretz daily, described the American move as a “betrayal”. She added that Ms. Clinton “with the full support of the President, has turned around after 10 months of negotiating the precondition of freezing settlements”.