Obama Urged to Make Israeli-Palestinian Peace A Priority

By Julie Stahl | November 10, 2008 | 10:30 AM EST

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – President-elect Barack Obama is being urged to make the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a top priority for his new administration.
Obama is expected to deal with domestic issues such as the economy first, but Middle Eastern leaders and others -- seizing on Obama’s campaign pledge to bring about “change” -- have wasted no time in putting forth their recommendations for the region.
“There is a foundation on which a new American administration and a new Israeli prime minister, with the Palestinians and ourselves in the international community, can build,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“What we’ve got to do is move it forward with the energy and the commitment and the dedication from the first day of the new American president that is necessary to achieve this,” said Blair, who is the international community’s envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Blair was speaking to the BBC following a meeting of the international Quartet – the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations –in Sharm e-Sheikh, Egypt with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
For the first time since the U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace conference at Annapolis, Maryland last year, the Israelis and Palestinians shared what they had accomplished and Quartet members said the negotiating process was irreversible.
Though it was fairly clear from the lack of visible progress in the secret talks over the year, participants admitted for the first time that they would not reach a peace deal by the end of the year.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said they had agreed on the need for “continuous, uninterrupted, direct, bilateral negotiations.” They also agreed that nothing would be considered firm until everything was agreed upon; and they affirmed the need for a comprehensive agreement rather than an agreement on isolated items.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II also urged Obama to get more involved in peace-making.
He said he looked forward to working with the new president to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reach a comprehensive agreement based on a two-state solution.
“We hope the new administration is going to be directly involved in regional peace efforts,” Abdullah was quoted as saying. U.S. regional ally Jordan was the second Arab state to sign a full peace treaty with Israel after Egypt.
Over the weekend, the Damascus-based leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, said his organization was willing to talk with Obama.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since it seized the territory from Abbas’ Fatah faction in June 2007. The Quartet members (except Russia) have refused to deal with Hamas unless it renounces terror, recognizes Israel and abides by Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
“There is no doubt that the recent American election is a big change when you get an American president with African roots,” Mashaal told the British television station Sky News from Damascus. He congratulated Obama but said that he should realize that he has “duties to the United States and in the whole world, and in hotspots, especially in the Middle East.”
Mashaal said Hamas was ready to hold talks with Obama and the new administration “on the basis that the American administration respects our rights and our options.”
“The American administration, if they want to deal with the region, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have no other option than deal with Hamas because we are a real force on the ground,” Mashaal said.
Denis McDonough, a senior foreign policy advisor to Obama, said that the president-elect had said he would talk with the militant group only “if it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and agrees to abide by past agreements.” (This is the current policy in Washington.)
One expert said last week that Hamas could become one of the first foreign policy issues with which Obama would have to deal after tensions flared in the Gaza Strip.
In the Gaza Strip on Monday, Palestinians were warning that they would soon run out of fuel to power their electric plant after Israel cut off the supply routes in response to rocket fire last week.
Israel blew up a structure inside the Gaza Strip last week that the army said was covering a tunnel, which was ready to be used to abduct Israeli soldiers. Six Palestinians were killed in exchanges of gunfire with Israeli soldiers and militants launched more than 70 rockets at Israel in response to the incident.
Two more rockets were launched at southern Israeli communities on Monday, and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided he would not open up the passages.
Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Israeli army’s administration, said that Hamas is responsible for what happens in the Gaza Strip and needs to clamp down on those firing rockets.
The rocket fire was “seriously impeding” Israel’s ability to improve the situation, Lerner told CNSNews.com.
Israel and the Gaza Strip are still technically maintaining a truce that began in June but Israeli defense officials were quoted in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Monday as saying that Israel might need to take more such military actions.