News Column

Palestinians Deserve End to Occupation, Says Obama

March 22, 2013
president obama

President Obama told Palestinians they "deserve an end to occupation" and an "independent state of their own" as he visited a territory on Thursday that Palestinians want as a nation.

Later, back in Israel, Obama said the Jewish state is at a crossroads and must help create an independent Palestinian state for the secure future of Israel. He said Israelis could not expect to remain safe without peace because "extremists" thrive on conflict.

Following a two-hour visit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, Obama's asserted that the borders for a Palestinian the state can only be settled through negotiations with Israel and that protect the national security of the Jewish state. He proposed no initiatives of his own to resolve the matter.

His visit was greeted by small protests in the West Bank and rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza into Israel. The rockets landed in a town in southern Israel but did not cause any injuries.

Hoping to move the Middle East peace process forward, Obama flew by helicopter the short distance from Jerusalem to Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government. Obama was met by Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' longtime peace negotiator.

It was the first time Obama had been to the West Bank as president, a territory conferred limited state status by the United Nations last November.

In a news conference held with Obama, Abbas said that peace was "possible" and "necessary," but he also said that it would not be achieved through wars and settlements -- or through violence. He said that the people of Palestine aspire to their rights.

"The only way to achieve that was through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians themselves," Obama said. He said that it was important not to give up on the search for peace.

Abbas has insisted that the Palestinians will accept nothing less than an independent state in the entirety of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the deal must include land on which Jewish cities have existed for decades.

Israel says its capital of Jerusalem will never be divided and that it is willing to give vacant Israeli land to the Palestinians so Jewish cities constructed in the West Bank can be made part of Israel.

Palestinian protesters complained that Obama has done little to pressure Israel to cave on the issues that have led to a stalemate, such as where to draw the borders for the new state and which Jewish settlements in the West Bank should be made part of Israel proper.

Security was extremely tight for the visit, but a few demonstrators managed to set up camp at Manara Square, the main square in Ramallah.

There they held up placards declaring: "Obama, Stop Supporting Israeli War Crimes" and "U.S. voted for occupation Nov. 29, 2012." That was a reference to the fact that the U.S. voted against partial statehood for the Palestinians in the U.N. that day. The vote passed, despite the U.S. opposition.

"America, first of all, they want to stick by Israel," said Akram Rezeq, who owns a bread shop here. "Obama, he's a good person. Palestinian people, we don't want to hurt anybody who comes here to visit us. We welcome them."

Bahjat Shehada, 35, a coordinator and translator for the German Embassy in Ramallah, said, "Obama's visit is nothing; it's just politics."

"All the U.S. presidents come here, and nothing happens," he said. "The Palestinian Authority don't want peace with Israel. The people on the street want it, but the political guys don't want it."

Contributing: Michele Chabin in Jerusalem

President Obama, right, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, center, greet members of a local youth dance group in Ramallah.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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