Last week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress in hopes of blocking a possible nuclear deal with Iran he did not mention the Palestinians once. To officials in the West Bank, this omission showed Netanyahu would rather the occupation stay invisible.
As Netanyahu addressed Congress, high-ranking Palestinian officials were busy trying to gain momentum from the international community on a series of on-going initiatives. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Central Committee, Executive Committee and Fatah Council all held day long meetings in Ramallah and the agenda was full: they discussed plans to file a war crimes case against Israel over settlements and the summer war in Gaza, launch a boycott campaign against Israeli consumer goods from shops in the West Bank, seek another resolution at the Security Council and more daringly, announced the end to security coordination with the Israeli military. Between the discussions, some senior officials made statements about Netanyahu’s speech. They were miffed that he did not talk about them and many also decried what they viewed as a call for war on Iran. In their view Iran was a distraction to the issue at hand, the occupation that they live under.
Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “In his speech, Mr. Netanyahu wanted to shift the attention from the core of the conflict by not mentioning Palestine. It seems that the impunity granted to Israel by the U.S. Congress allows him to continue violating Palestinian rights without fearing any response. We also declare that Palestine supports a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, and in order to achieve that goal, Israel must allow the presence of international teams to check on Israel’s nuclear facilities.”
Dr.Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the Palestine National Initiative, said Netanayhu was “selling an old product that no one is buying, he is selling fear.” Dr. Barghouti and his party represent Palestinians immersed in the non-violent struggle, weekly protests against Israel’s separation wall. His group has tried to diversify the Palestinian struggle, where the grassroots can participate when collapsed negotiations yield little hope.
“It is really amazing how such a man has the guts to stand in front of congress in and the entire world with out mentioning the Palestinian issue, the most important issue for Israelis,” he said.
Spokesperson for the PLO Ashraf Khatib added, “It will be a mistake to give it [the speech] much importance. Netanyahu went to Washington because he has started an election campaign and he wants to inflate the region with more tension, and his agenda is an agenda of war.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the speech indirectly. Last week he did weigh in on Israel’s upcoming elections on March 17th. Netanyahu’s Iran talk was regarded as campaign plug, although Israeli polls showed he made little gains from the internationally televised event. Abbas took a lighter tone than other Palestinian officials, “At this time Israel wants to put everything in hold because of the elections. It is unfortunate that Israel is doing this. But I say clearly and plainly that we have no business with the Israeli elections and we do not wish to express own view on whom we wish to be the next Prime Minister of Israel. Whomever the Israeli people will elect we will consider a peace partner and negotiate with,” he said on Thursday.
Yet future negotiations seem unlikely. On Sunday Netanyahu’s Likud party published a pamphlet relaying that the prime minister is done with supporting any sort of Palestinian statehood. The reason, like Netanyahu’s Congress speech, was Iran.
“[T]he situation that has arisen in the Middle East, any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremism and terror organizations supported by Iran. Therefore, there will be no concessions or withdrawals, they are simply irrelevant,” the pamphlet said.